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Anglican Church called to respond to role in 'apocalypse' and transform relationships with Indigenous people

Thursday night at Synod sees reconciliation action plan, parishes and more discussed.

The Revd Glenn Loughrey holds up a drawing by four-year-old Louis representing reconciliation

PHOTO: Chris Shearer

By Mark Brolly

October 18 2019The Anglican Church was culpable in what was “nothing short of an apocalypse” for the people of the Kulin nation in the early colonial history of what is now Melbourne, the Aboriginal vicar of a Melbourne parish told the Diocesan Synod on 17 October.

The Revd Dr Garry Deverell of St Agnes Black Rock said in the Victorian frontier wars that followed over the first 15 years of European occupation, “the Kulin peoples were raped, murdered, shot, poisoned in vast numbers”.

“The latest estimates of the number of people who were killed in that 15-year period, just around Kulin country around Nairm (Port Phillip Bay), range between 8000 and 15,000 people,” he said. “Their lands and cities were stolen, their complex land management systems and agricultural riches were destroyed by the arrival of sheep and cattle in their millions. And when the wars were over, the survivors of this Armageddon were herded into church-run missions where they were forbidden to speak their languages, to practise culture or even to work for a living.

“The damage to this country, its animals and fauna and those who had cared for it for 80,000 years was nothing short of catastrophic and Anglican policy-makers were at the heart of both why and how it happened.”

Dr Deverell and another Aboriginal vicar, the Revd Glenn Loughrey of St Oswald's Glen Iris, gave a presentation to Synod entitled “Next Steps for Reconciliation”. The motion Synod adopted after the presentation called on Archbishop-in-Council, the body that governs the diocese between synod meetings, to give a considered formal response to the review of the diocesan Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) tabled by the RAP Working Group on 20 February 2018; the Statement to Provincial Leadership tabled by the Aboriginal Council of the Anglican Province of Victoria in November 2018; and that Archbishop-in-Council make an interim report of its responses to all Synod members by 31 May next year to be followed by a full report of its responses to the 2020 Melbourne Synod, due next October.

Dr Deverell said the Anglican Church of Australia was “quintessentially a colonial church”.

He said the people responsible for the colonies thought that genteel Britishness and Anglicanism were much the same thing.

“The ongoing effects of colonisation are now reported biannually by the Commonwealth's Productivity Commission. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people remain in every way the sickest, poorest and most disadvantaged people in modern Australia,” Dr Deverell said.

“The statistics make for horrifying reading but I would like to remind you that we, the Aboriginal members of your church, are these statistics. We, like the Apostle Paul, wear the marks of crucifixion in our hearts and in our bodies. We, like Christ Himself, are the scapegoats outside the camp who bear in our very flesh the sins of the nation.”

Dr Deverell said there had never been a secured or tenured Aboriginal voice in the senior leadership of the diocese, of its schools or agencies, or of its theological colleges. Without a response from diocesan leaders, reconciliation was effectively on hold in the Diocese of Melbourne.

“Without a voice, we cannot call for mercy. Without a voice, we cannot call for justice. Without a voice, matters of truth and reconciliation will remain a distant and increasingly forlorn hope.”

Mr Loughrey thanked Dr Deverell for reminding the Synod of its history “in terms of attempts to address the undeniable role the Church played in the genocide of the local people, a genocide that saw the death of 87 per cent of all Aboriginals who were here BC -- Before Cook -- by 1911”.

He said the motion before Synod was “an invitation, not a demand”.

“Aboriginal people have no need for reconciliation as we did no wrong. Those who invaded our countries, those who provided the religious framework for the civilising and proselytising of those who were here first and all who came as a result of the invasion, including recent immigrants, and benefit from the destruction and replacement of our ancient culture, they -- you -- need reconciliation. This includes each here today and the Church to which we belong.”

On its first full business sitting this year, the Synod passed three pieces of legislation on improving its election processes, professional standards and parish governance.

Synod also adopted without debate several motions, including to establish a review to consider wide-ranging proposals to change the way the Archbishop of Melbourne is elected; urging the Federal Government to raise the Newstart allowance from below $40 a day to a level “that gives those without work the resources to seek jobs and to live with dignity and connection to the community”; celebrating the success of the Millennium Development Goals in raising people out of poverty and renewing its call for Australia to devote 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income to overseas development assistance; to revise the “outdated” diocesan environment policy; and to seek a report from Archbishop-in-Council on a comprehensive child safety strategy.

Archbishop Philip Freier responded to several questions asked by Synod members the previous night, informing Synod that there were 204 parishes and eight Authorised Anglican Congregations operating in the Diocese of Melbourne and that between 2008-18, the Diocese had sold 63 properties for a total of $58.7 million and that over the same period, 23 properties had been acquired for a total of $21.7 million.

One of Melbourne's Assistant Bishops, Kate Prowd, gave a presentation on parish planting and said a small working group of lay and ordained people had been meeting this year to explore church planting and that, across their differences, had found common ground.

Bishop Prowd showed a video on some of the new Christian communities that were flourishing in the diocese.

“All of them, I believe, are indeed Jesus Christ's churches, reflecting and celebrating and making recognisable the heart of Jesus,” she said. “They are places where people's longing and Christ's longing come together.”

* For full reports of Synod proceedings, read November's 'TMA', available in churches on 10 November.