The SacredEdge festival at Queenscliff Uniting Church last month was a true example of placing those at the edges of society at the centre of the Church. The mood, both sacred and festive, instilled a genuine sense of warmth into the connections made among the several hundred attendees.
Given the event is in its first year, the turn out and line-up of speakers was impressive, to say the least.
Presenters and workshop facilitators included Rev Jenny Byrnes (executive director, Centre for Theology and Ministry), Rev Peter Batten (UCA minister and creative arts therapist), Mutthi Mutthi woman Vicki Clark (co-ordinator, Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Victoria), Val Webb (educator and author of In Defence of Doubt), Lindi Dietzel (senior Aboriginal partnerships and planning officer for the Department of Human of Services, VIC), Baptist minister Carolyn Francis and meteorologist Marc McNaught, along with many others.
The three-day event covered a broad range of topics with talks on environmental sustainability, same-sex marriage, art therapy, interfaith dialogue, neuroscience, Indigenous sovereignty and the stolen generation.
Ms Byrnes’ talk focused on looking at church through a neuroscience lens.
“The brain, a connection machine, is energy-hungry; it’s an economy organ which means it’s lazy and hardwires everything it can. This hard-wiring gives us our automatic perceptions,” she said.
She emphasised the potential for new wiring in the brain for church members.
“Insights, new ideas and connections all involve new wiring in the brain. What we need to ask is – what is the church’s hardwiring? What if that hardwiring is not serving us and the church?”
Ms Francis addressed a large audience on the topic, ‘Marriage in an inclusive world’.
“Australia has been a country with a lot of control over marriage since colonisation – more so than in Britain at the time Australia was colonised. Convicts needed permission to marry. It was a method of control over the working class,” she said.
Referring to the fact the government maintained strict control over Indigenous marriage up until 1959, Ms Francis emphasised that legally restricting marriage to between a man and a woman is the most recent in a long line of restrictions which have included race and class.
“The conversation on same-sex marriage turns so easily from love and relationships to fear. There can be an intellectual distance among members of the church. I’ve heard otherwise good people say horrific things ideologically on this issue.
“Theology that is not pastoral is not good theology,” she said.
Ms Francis has challenged the church to discuss the issue without resorting to fear.
“We don’t get to have theology as just an idea – the incarnation (of Jesus) made it personal and pastoral. We need to be a people of love rather than people of fear.”
In her address on doubt, Ms Webb spoke of the valuable role doubt plays in the church’s journey.
“Religious doubts are not negatives. Doubt is positive and necessary – but is received with fear by the church. Wisdom comes from questioning and inquiry and striving to reach the truth,” she said.
“The gap of doubt occurs when one’s belief systems don’t align with experience. While doubt in other areas is accepted – it’s accepted that we are responsible for our own beliefs, what makes sense to us – this is not so when it comes to faith and religion.”
Ms Webb warned that certainties can make us “haters and persecutors” whereas doubt can lead to tolerance and compassion. She referred to the fact Christians in Nazi Germany were lulled into complicity through lack of questioning authority voices.
“Faith and certainty are opposites. Let’s switch authorities and embrace our own ability to think.”
At the church’s pulpit, ‘Yirrmal & the Yolngu Boys’ from North-East Arnhem Land – Yirrmal Marika, a young singer-songwriter and guitarist from the community of Yirrkala, with Yolngu boys Dion, Jerol and Seviro Wunungmurra – sang about their homeland and culture.
Following the group’s performance, Mutthi Mutthi woman Ms Clark began a time of storytelling.
A space for quiet reverence and reflection followed, after which she engaged those present with Aboriginal creation stories and rituals.
Saturday’s festivities culminated in a celebratory dinner, with catering by a local Bosnian refugee community. Guest speaker, Mustafa Nuristani, journalist and former refugee from Afghanistan, spoke of visiting asylum seeker friends detained at centres in Victoria.
Indie/folk band The Tealeaves provided entertainment, followed by an emotive performance by hip-hop/ spoken-word artist and former refugee Abe Ape (Abraham Nouk Abe).