A statement by Bishop Philip Huggins, President of the National Council of Churches in Australia

Listening is the key – 08 January 2019

In response to the acts of a minority group in St Kilda last Saturday, Bishop Philip Huggins has released a statement:

The conflict and the visual character of these recent events have ensured their wide publicity, here and overseas.

Accordingly, there will be more of the same.

What to do?
People of faith know and understand that we are all made in the divine likeness. Therefore, racism is just a cruel folly. We know too that we are one human family on a tiny planet of God’s creation, gifted with life by the Creator of all that is, seen and unseen. We cannot conceive ourselves or create the air we breathe. It is all gift!

The question is how to better renew this shared spiritual awareness and our national unity, amidst forces which amplify conflict and division, fear and hate. Einstein’s wisdom gives us a hint: “You cannot solve a problem at the same level of thinking that created it”. The counter-rallies to those racists who appropriate and demean national symbols like our flag, are necessary but not sufficient.

So, having briefly sketched our context, let me offer my one suggestion. It comes from my work with multicultural parish communities in Melbourne’s western suburbs and in Geelong.

Periodically, especially where there have been misunderstandings and conflict, we have created safe places of listening over a shared meal. In those congenial places, people have simply been invited to share about the people of grace and the moments of grace in their lives. The conversations have been beautiful as people of very different backgrounds, colour in the unifying features of their personal and faith life.

For example, people whose whole life may have been in St Albans (recently in the news), including aboriginal people still on traditional lands, listen to people who are now in St Albans from refugee camps in Africa, Asia and the Middle East .Everyone has a story to tell. As we listen to one another, we see the divine providence both in moments of grace and in the people of grace we have met along the way.

Very few people feel well listened to. People, I have found, can be in the same community for quite some time but not really know each others’ story. One sees respect, understanding and affection blossom as people listen to each other more deeply. From my experience, this is the kind of patient, careful work we need to now do with each other in our local communities.

Local Multifaith Councils can foster it, as can national bodies such as our National Council of Churches in Australia, with our links to groups such as the Australian National Dialogue of Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Perhaps, in the lead up to this Australia Day, we might begin the local conversation as to where we might share a meal with neighbours, simply to listen, as one by one, we share those moments of grace and people of grace that give us hope.

Australia, with our cultural diversity, is like a big therapy centre in which we all need to listen better to one another. As we do so, we Australians may thus give hope to the wider world as to how the human family cannot just coexist but really flourish together, creating a beautiful civilisation!

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