The Reverend Felimon Assel, Associate Priest of Jika Jika Parish in Preston, at the conference in May.

Multicultural Conference 11 May 2013

Seventy men and women who between them worship Sundays in 14 languages, 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 was funded by the Melbourne Anglican Foundation and organised by the diocesan Department of Multicultural Ministry.

Present were Dinkas, Maoris, Samoans, Indonesians, Karen, Moros, Chinese speaking mandarin, Hakka and Cantonese, Indians, Tamils and Australian-born.

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 home land? Trauma has long-term consequences.
  • From the Rev. 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.’

Because of Archbishop Freier’s recent trip to Myanmar, he commented on the idea of the Church moving into the Asia Century.
In Asia, the Myanmar government is trying to build up peace in their country; however the government has lost their credibility, therefore the Karen don’t want to return to their country. Archbishop Freier also commented that reconciliation is not easy for the Myanmar government due to their unequal distribution of wealth and the lack of social justice, but the Myanmar Church has done a great job by bringing hope and justice to Myanmar.

During the day in an unexpected moment, Sudanese authorised lay minister at Dandenong parish,  Oyem Amay Lek, produced from his brief case a brand new Bible in Dinka language. ‘It is the first time we have had the Old Testament. 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 showing between young people and their parents. Young people from overseas experience bullying at school, and this impacts on 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 Rev. David Sullivan, accountant and vicar of Panton Hill parish, presented and 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. Later Ken Morgan, coordinator of that vision, explained why people feel anxious when they see diversity in the streets. ‘One way of handling anxiety is to distance yourself. 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 is that the whole community can get better at genuinely welcoming difference, and that the Church can lead the way.

Archdeacon Robert Presland, director of theological education and training, said there are now 200 in training, and their average age is 38. The multicultural trainees are reducing the age. He said: ‘Using an old analogy, ordination is a sausage factory, but it is now a very flexible sausage.’ The Rev. 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 Rev. 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 has also 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.’

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

By Alan Nichols with help from Ivy Wong


 Related pages