Uniting Church members in the Warrnambool region are using the power of song to bring about social change.
The One Earth Many Voices choir came together in 2014 and includes several Uniting Church members from Warrnambool and Port Fairy. It was formed as a response to social and environmental issues, such as refugees, climate change and coal seam fracking.
Warrnambool minister Rev Geoff Barker plays the guitar and is one of the choir’s co-convenors. He said the choir raises awareness about social justice issues in an accessible and non-threatening manner.
“We can argue and lobby politicians, but to bring about change in issues such as the environment, climate change and refugees, you’ve got to also touch people’s emotions,” Mr Barker said.
“Through the arts, you can make some impact. Singing is one way we can do that.”
Co-convenor Philip Shaw said one of the choir’s first tasks was to come up with a name that reflected their values and mission.
“There’s the idea of many voices – looking at the different voices that need to be represented by a choir such as ours,” Mr Shaw said.
“We had a nice logo of the earth and, just around it, the words ‘One Earth, Many Voices’ fitted quite nicely. It was a fortuitous starting name and it stuck with the group since then.”
The choir is open to people from all, or no, faith backgrounds.
“We welcome anyone who is interested in singing and support the ideas we’re interested in,” Mr Shaw said.
“Although Geoff and I are the leaders, everyone gets their chance to put their ideas forward to discuss the things that we’re doing.”
Every Tuesday evening, the choir rehearses at the Hammond centre next to the Anglican Christ Church. The centre is more than just a place to rehearse; it is a space for members to share food, discuss social issues and collaborate on song-writing.
Christina Buckland became involved with the choir because she was concerned about the federal government’s inaction on climate change. She said the feedback from the public has been positive and many people would comment on their song lyrics, which are often humorous but imbued with a strong social message.
“We keep getting invited back, so I think that’s a vote of confidence,” Ms Buckland said.
“We didn’t want to just spread the science and be very technical; we needed to get our message across in a reasonably friendly way.”
A highlight for many of the choir members was a weekend camp late last year in Halls Gap. Approximately 50 people gathered together to discuss ideas, learn new protest songs and sing about peace and justice. The camp received in-kind funding from Uniting Church Camping through the Presbytery of Western Victoria.
The choir is just one way Uniting Church members in Warrnambool are involved in social justice advocacy. The congregation hosts a community lunch every Wednesday and runs a child care centre on the church site. Some members of Warrnambool Uniting Church, including Mr Barker, also participated in a Love Makes a Way sit-in last October at the office of Wannon MP Dan Tehan.
Mr Barker said his involvement in social justice causes is driven by the call of the gospel.
“Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God – we’re just a part of walking towards that,” he said.
“He’s our guide, He’s our inspiration.”