A big part of my life for many years before I came to Melbourne in December 2006 was as a teacher, priest and bishop on Cape York, in regional Queensland and in the Northern Territory – places remote from Australia’s big centres of population but communities where human relationships are part of the recognised fabric of society and the bedrock of survival.

It had been natural in these places – Indigenous communities, regional centres and small rural communities – to expect that relationships would be formed before business was done, so it made sense to me that a similar approach would be useful in getting to understand Melbourne and Geelong as Archbishop.

In my first year in Melbourne, I visited shopping centres, workplaces, universities and other public spaces as part of my Prayer4Melbourne Quest, to learn what concerned the people of Melbourne and Geelong. I have continued my commitment to dialogue beyond the church walls through hosting Breakfast Conversations with public figures in Federation Square and speaking at events such as Spirituality in the Pub forums across our city.

So I welcomed the opportunity recently to participate in the Wheeler Centre’s Faith and Culture lecture series and panel discussion with US theologian Stanley Hauerwas, former NSW Premier Kristina Keneally and adjunct professor in Humanities and Social Sciences at La Trobe University Morag Fraser on “The Voice of Faith in the Conversation of Citizens” at Federation Square.

Our forebears in Melbourne chose wisely in selecting the site for St Paul’s Cathedral – a location enhanced by Federation Square’s emergence as one of this marvellous city’s great gathering places.

In a diocese of more than 200 parishes, it is easy to become fully absorbed in the institutional work of the church. But I remain as determined to reach people in the wider community as I was in 2006.

The state of childhood, sharing the wealth in an unequal society and fair treatment for Indigenous Australians are among the many issues that have resonated throughout my time in Melbourne. The jury is out on whether social media is replacing traditional human interaction, but it is indisputable that the time given to online technology is not spent on physical exercise or volunteering in the community. Has our society already drifted from the values that sustain it?

The time when Christian principles were automatically incorporated into public policy has passed. Christian leaders need to be prepared to make an argument on clear principles rather than just relying on formerly undisputed Judeo-Christian foundations of society, and that discourse should take place in the public space.
I am constantly amazed when politicians suggest that church leaders and other Christians should keep out of politics, arguing that religion is private. We are part of the community, too, and we endeavour to convey the wisdom that comes from God for his people and his world. I have found an openness amongst people here to a Christian contribution to public life.

The New Testament tells us that Christians should be a blessing to the place we are in. We are urged to work for the wellbeing of our community.

The church cannot be silent when significant issues of justice arise but must follow the example of Jesus, whose words and behaviour named and healed the effects of sin in the world.

We seek to be messengers of hope, a vital role in a society that often presents messages of hopelessness. If we let God act upon us, we need not be overcome with despair, nor see the future as an unfriendly, hostile place. Instead, we can all be people of hope, relying on God not ourselves, and looking to the future with eagerness and certainty.

 

 This month's TMA

 
 

 Tools and talkback