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Anglican Diocese of Melbourne launches reconciliation action plan

Posted on: August 7, 2015 10:46 AM
Photo Credit: Anglican Media Melbourne

By Chris Shearer for Anglican Media Melbourne

The Most Revd Dr Philip Freier, Archbishop of Melbourne and Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, has officially launched the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).

The RAP, developed in conjunction with Reconciliation Australia, is being implemented so that the diocese, along with its parishes and sector ministries, is able to coordinate key programs and initiatives aimed at changing the culture of the diocese to better embrace reconciliation. This will include advocacy and promotion of the key issues surrounding reconciliation, as well as providing practical advice and liturgical resources for parish and other ministry events.

“The full aspiration that Reconciliation Australia has encouraged is that we don’t overreach, over-promise and under-deliver, but have at every stage of this journey things that can be authentic and real and help strengthen our mutual resolve and understanding,” said Dr Freier. “I’m really thrilled my expectation coming to this night has been met by the reality.”

A number of these actions, such as advocating within and outside the diocesan community for greater reconciliation and marking significant celebrations of reconciliation through special events, were under way before the official launch at St Paul’s Cathedral on 30 July. Others, such as offering parishes and staff cultural experiences in conjunction with the Koorie Heritage Trust, are set to begin soon.

The Revd Helen Dwyer, who helped develop the plan with the RAP Working Group, said it was about building relationships and building respect. In her role as the diocese’s Aboriginal Reconciliation Liaison Officer she assists Anglican schools, parishes and agencies to be more proactive about reconciliation by acting as a central resource.

“Whether that’s by coming and speaking at services to help them think about the past and how we rectify some of the atrocities and trauma that we’ve caused, or whether that’s helping them, on a long term basis, prepare and implement their own Reconciliation Action Plan,” Ms Dwyer said. “It varies from parish to parish, school to school, agency to agency.”

For example, Ms Dwyer said that one parish has been actively trying to build relationships with Nungalinya College, a Darwin-based combined churches training college for Indigenous Australians, as well as equipping its young people to think more proactively about reconciliation. Another has decided to tithe part of the future income of a building currently under construction to a local Aboriginal organisation or ministry.

Ms Dwyer said a key part of the process was remembering why reconciliation was important. “I think it’s fair to say that until you’ve examined history and acknowledged history you can’t truly move forward into the future with this sort of work,” she said.

Dr Freier established the RAP Working Group in October 2012 and has championed the development of the RAP ever since. His years of ministerial service in remote Indigenous communities and subsequent time as Bishop of the Northern Territory have given him insight into the issues facing Indigenous Australians. He acknowledged that the beginning of white settlement had marked the start of many of the key issues facing Indigenous Australians today.

“The arrival of European settlers in 1788 led directly to consequences which still exist,” he wrote in the introduction to the RAP. “The loss of traditional lands, the decimation of the Aboriginal population through war and imported disease, the dispossession, the stolen generation and the disruption to culture mean that today there remains a significant gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and non-Indigenous Australians. The gap exists in health, life expectancy, education, access to employment and more.”

The Revd Glenn Loughrey, priest-in-charge at St Oswald's Glen Iris and a member of the RAP Working Group, gave a sermon during the launch which drew on his and his family’s experience of hardships due to their Aboriginal background to paint a broader picture of the change needed in society.

“Our people are suffering from the cumulative effect of internalised oppression giving rise to the situation we see in front of us,” he said. “It will take imagination, humility and a drastic rethinking of our own lives and the way we find value and meaning in and for ourselves and others before we will be able to reach out to those we continue to oppress.”

He said the RAP “put into words our desires to make a difference”.

“We are called to innovate, not in terms of programs or protest, but in terms of people. To engage with Indigenous people as autonomous individuals fully capable of living their lives, to understand the pain deeper than skin colour and stereotypes, and make a start to reimagine the primal spiritual needs of all,” he said.

“Let us put right what our colonial ancestors made wrong by holding out our hands in reconciliation and working together.”

Download the Reconciliation Action Plan.