We must own our past - both good and bad
By Archbishop Philip Freier
August 7 2016During July I participated in a significant event in the life of the Anglican Church of Australia: the seventieth anniversary of the founding of St Mary’s Hostel in Alice Springs.
St Mary’s was founded through the vision of Ken Leslie, Rector of Alice Springs at the time (later Chaplain at Timbertop and then Bishop of Bathurst) and the energies of Deaconess Eileen Heath. It is a place where the race politics of Australia and particularly Central Australia have been lived out in the lives of several generations of Aboriginal people.
The founders of St Mary’s acted out of a concern that children who had dual Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal heritage had very limited opportunities for education. Children were sent by their parents from cattle stations and towns all around the Northern Territory to live at St Mary’s and attend the local government school.
Like many church ventures of this kind the efforts were poorly resourced and struggled to maintain and develop the kind of resources and staffing that were worthy of the founders’ vision. The early success of St Mary’s led to its appropriation as part of Government policy at the time of wrongfully removing children from their families – the painful experience of the Stolen Generations that remains raw for many who attended the seventieth anniversary event in July.
I took the opportunity to reiterate the statement of the Synod of the Diocese of the Northern Territory in 1997: “This Synod recognises the pain and suffering endured by Aboriginal people forcibly removed from their families and apologises for any of our Church policies and actions that have ever contributed, in any way, to that hurt.”
I was able to speak as Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia owning the responsibility of the Church for all of our history, the true history, in both its positive and negative impacts. It is in this way, by truth telling, that we learn together and can find ways of celebrating the good and continuing to right the harm of the wrong. St John’s Gospel is very clear about the liberating power of truth, in fact John 8.32, “The truth will set you free”, is the motto of the Anglican Communion.
I was impressed to see the courage of the former residents who have a special bond through their experience of being ‘St Mary’s kids’ as well as the dedication of former staff members who have continued to live in Alice Springs.
Our Christian faith acknowledges that, in life, the good and the bad are often mixed together. Our faith calls us to look to a future where the pain of this life is gathered into the sufferings of Christ and transformed through his resurrection. Healing and wholeness await us in the future and breaks in on our present, as we accompany our blessed Saviour through life as his disciples.
On the way to that future, we have the blessing of knowing the encouragement of the good and the beautiful as signs of that future.
May you be blessed on the journey of discipleship and know our Lord’s healing presence in your life.
Read more from Dr Philip Freier, Anglican Primate of Australia and Archbishop of Melbourne, at http://www.anglicanprimate.com.au/