Seventy men and women who between them worship in 14 languages on Sundays, spent a Saturday in May at a multicultural ministry conference at Trinity College exploring diversity in the Church and how to promote it.

The conference, funded by the Melbourne Anglican Foundation and organised by the diocesan Department of Multicultural Ministry, drew Dinkas, Maoris, Samoans, Indonesians, Karen, Moros, Chinese-speaking Mandarin, Hakka and Cantonese, Indians, Tamils and Australian-born participants.

Out of the day came several clear challenges:
  • From Ms Ros Leary, counsellor at Foundation House Dandenong: "What are your churches doing about asylum seekers in community detention in their communities?
  • From community development worker Abraham Jongroor of Melton: "Australia’s foreign aid is used for political purposes, as a weapon of politics. Surely it should be used for humanitarian purposes?"
  • From Associate Professor Jeanette Lawrence: "Are we taking enough notice of trauma carried over from conflict in their homeland? Trauma has long-term consequences."
  • From the Revd Ben Wong of Doncaster parish: “Young people want to know how faith impacts their lives. They are losing their identity – they are not Chinese or Australian.”
  • From Dr Rachel Busbridge, from La Trobe University’s Centre for Dialogue: “Dialogue is a process of learning to listen to others. We get an understanding of our differences, but also of what unites us.”
  • From Archbishop Philip Freier: Are we meeting the challenge of the increasing ethnic and cultural diversity of congregations? Do our congregations reflect the diversity that is in most suburbs?

Archbishop Freier, who recently visited Myanmar/Burma, spoke about the Church moving into the Asian Century. The Myanmar government is trying to build up peace in the country but because the government has lost its credibility, the Karen don’t want to return to their country. Dr Freier also commented that reconciliation was not easy for the Myanmar government due to the unequal distribution of wealth and the lack of social justice, but the Church there had done a great job by bringing hope and justice to the country.

An an unexpected moment, Sudanese authorised lay minister at Dandenong parish, Oyem Amay Lek, produced from his briefcase a new Bible in the Chollo language.

“It is the first time we have had the Old Testament,” he said. “This was produced by the Bible Society in Sudan, and it arrived yesterday.”

The two part-time project workers for the Our children are becoming Australian too quickly project, made their first report. Using focus groups, Christina George from Werribee and Abraham Nyieth from Sunshine outlined differences already evident between young people and their parents. Young people from overseas experience bullying at school, and this affects the family.

Twenty people chose the elective workshop on handling finances. Several typical case studies were presented on the budget difficulties families have when they come from cash-less societies. The Revd David Sullivan, an accountant and Vicar of Panton Hill parish, explained a basic do-it-yourself budget for such situations.

Archbishop Freier had an hour consulting with the multicultural elders about his diocesan vision, with seven groups feeding back on what it means to be an Anglican these days and what more the Church could do in multicultural ministry.

The groups reported back on what each community would like to say to the Archbishop about the diocese – please train our youth leaders; parishes are wrestling with the concept of gay rights; promote a Hospitality Sunday in the diocese so people can visit each other’s homes; develop skills to minister to youth who cross between cultures; how can migrant congregations “own” the parish where they worship and not always feel like visitors.

Later, Ken Morgan, coordinator of the Archbishop’s Vision and Strategic Directions program, explained why people feel anxious when they see diversity in the streets.

“One way of handling anxiety is to distance yourself,” he said. “Our narrative has been, ‘We were here first, you have to adapt to us’. So we invent categories like newcomer or refugee.”

He expressed his hope that the whole community could get better at genuinely welcoming difference, and that the Church could lead the way.

Archdeacon Robert Presland, Director of Theological Education and Training, said there were now 200 people in training for ministry, and their average age was 38. Multicultural trainees were reducing the age.

“Using an old analogy, ordination is a sausage factory, but it is now a very flexible sausage,” he said.

The Revd Chaplain Soma and Mrs Joy Freier commended the style and content of the Institute for the Healing of Memories.

Joy Freier said: “We are the product of our past, but we are not the prisoner of the past.”

The Revd Bob Mitchell of Anglican Overseas Aid said his agency was exploring with AusAID an intern program for people to test their vocation to international aid. He described his consultation with local Sudanese about the possibility of starting projects in Sudan as focusing on affirming empowerment and education for girls. He also has been consulting local Karen about projects in Myanmar.

In a closing theological reflection, Bishop Philip Huggins spoke of the way Jesus reconciled to Peter with the question “Do you love me?” On the basis of this reconciliation, Peter became the great leader of the Early Church.

“What energy and vitality are released when there is reconciliation,” Bishop Huggins said.

Canon Ray Cleary, responding, said he sensed two great themes through the day – belonging and friendship.

Canon Alan Nichols is coordinator of Multicultural Ministry in the Diocese of Melbourne. This article was written with help from the Revd Ivy Wong, Pam Wardle and Maree N’Diaye. 


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