Easter a lived reality in remote Kowanyama
March 4 2018I unexpectedly spent Ash Wednesday in Kowanyama, a remote Aboriginal community in far north Queensland. Unexpectedly, because I had been called at short notice to officiate at the funeral of a close member of the family that I had been adopted into many years ago, when Joy and I lived and worked there as teachers and afterwards in church leadership.
There in that place, remote as well as hot and humid as the wet season began just prior to the expected monsoon rain, the reality of Jesus’ death and the hope that it brings was immediate to the several hundred mourners who joined together in the home, the church and then the cemetery.
Mourning in Kowanyama takes place quite differently from what we might experience in Melbourne. There it is public, protracted and visceral in the combination of wailing and tears, as different groups of kin come into the house to sit near the coffin before the funeral service. Encountering death in Western society, even of close family members, has become mediated by professionals and, at times, marked by the repression of any emotional expression of grief.
In Kowanyama it is very different, and entirely in the hands of the family as soon as the coffin is released from the mortuary. Throughout the whole proceedings that lasted for more than four hours I was the only non-Aboriginal present.
There were a number of things that struck me during those few days alongside the vividness of the truth of the Ash Wednesday invocation to remember that “…mortal, you are dust and to dust you shall return”. The first was the hope in the resurrection that was spoken about even in the midst of the very visceral expression of grief.
Even though grieving is negatively expressed in 1 Thessalonians 4.13, “… do not grieve as others do who have no hope”, the combination of such an expression of human grief and Christian hope is powerful.
My niece was only in her mid-fifties when she died, the same age as her mother and two of her mother’s sisters at the time of their deaths. Her death coming within days of the release of the ‘Close the Gap’ report gave my reading of this report a very personal reality.
Some of you will have heard me give my opinion that the evangelistic mission of the Church is simply to communicate the Gospel into a new generation and across cultures. Kowanyama was started as an Anglican mission in 1905, when it was called Mitchell River Mission. 110 years is not a long time but in that period the role of a public expression of Christian faith and identity in Australia generally has certainly diminished. In Kowanyama, however, despite many challenges, the expression of the Christian faith is public and certainly central at a time like I have described.
Succession of leadership is one of the challenges as long-term ministers Father Wayne Connolly and his wife, Deacon Val Connolly, discern the right time to retire to their home community of Yarrabah.
Please pray for the things I have mentioned here. I know how important it is for Christians in this remote place, that most of us will never experience, to be connected to the concern of the wider church.
Read more from Dr Philip Freier, Anglican Primate of Australia and Archbishop of Melbourne, at http://www.anglicanprimate.com.au