Reading your excellent article (July) by Helen Stagoll telling the plight of asylum seekers at the Maribyrnong Detention Centre prompts me to congratulate Helen and call on our church to continue to speak out against this iniquity by our government in our name.
The Uniting Church and all of us as individuals should be crying out continuously and loudly wherever we see injustice. Otherwise we should regard ourselves as complicit.
Helen Stagoll mentions some of the seemingly trivial prohibitions visited upon the detained (imprisoned) asylum seekers – no flowers to be received, no written material (e.g. journal) to be shown by them to a visiting tutor or friend, confiscation of art material, bureaucratic delays in obtaining writing material or books, banning of musical instruments and so on. These are just the more minor of meaningless measures, surely designed to destroy morale and quality of life. And such restrictions are being made more severe as time goes by.
As well, having committed no offence by international standards in seeking political asylum, these victims (and I use the word advisedly) have to endure indefinite separation from loved ones, the trauma of total uncertainty as to their futures, the gradual breaking of their spirits by the hopelessness of their situation, loneliness and despair.
All the above appears to be bipartisan policy of both our major political parties, and all of it silently endorsed by an uncaring population. Otherwise it would change wouldn’t it?
I challenge my fellow members of our Uniting Church to uphold our Christian values of justice and fairness for all by demanding a complete review and revision of the cruel and inhumane practices which are being perpetrated on these powerless victims of our political system.
I was moved to read Helen Stagoll’s account of the brutalising treatment immigration detainees receive in Melbourne’s detention centres.
I am part of a group of clergy who lead worship services inside the Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre (MIDC) and have been visiting there monthly for two-and-a-half years. It is one of the most shocking and depressing places I have ever been to in my sheltered life, and it is getting worse.
For example, two years ago detainees moved freely around the centre and I was able to enter their living quarters and interact with them. Now they are confined to their ‘zones’, needing to be escorted when moving anywhere else, such as to a religious service. Previously anyone could wander in to a service, now they must register in advance. And now they are searched on arriving and leaving.
Many of the detainees at MIDC are people who have completed a prison term and are detained pending deportation. Some have been there for years. They say MIDC is much worse than prison, because in prison you have a set term and know how long you have to endure.
This hardening of treatment is symbolised by the out-of-date photo you used to illustrate Helen Stagoll’s story. The photo shows the sign marking the entrance to MIDC at 53 Hampstead Rd. It loudly proclaims that down this driveway is a detention centre under the control of the Australian Government – arrows proudly point the way.
About two years ago this sign was painted over. Now all you see is a white wall with the number 53 on it. This is a little thing that speaks volumes. The centre is hidden from view, unidentified, a shameful secret.
We should be ashamed of this place as a nation, but we should not hide it. It is part of who we have become. Christ have mercy.
Rev Ian Ferguson
Brunswick Uniting Church
Church should act
I read the article in July Crosslight headed ‘A glimpse into the despair of detention’ and couldn’t help feeling that perhaps there are some human rights laws or issues being broken in the way people are being treated in this story.
I feel sad for the way the asylum seekers or refugees in the Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre are being treated and for the lack of support Helen Stagoll is receiving in her efforts to care for and teach these people.
I believe the Uniting Church should take up the mantle for Helen and make representation to the government about the inhumanness being shown where a little care and concern may lead to a better understanding between Australians and people seeking asylum, as well as the possibility of improved behaviour by the interned people as they experience real love and concern.
I write this letter in the hope the powers of the pen of Crosslight may challenge the Church to take this issue further in support of the vulnerable and persecuted.
Of Church and Nation
As the excitement of the UCA’s 40th anniversary celebrations fades from our hearts and minds, the front cover of July’s issue of Crosslight contains two key words coupled together with an ampersand – “church and nation”. The reproduction of the front page of the first issue of the newly created Victorian Synod’s newspaper, Church & Nation reflects a historical, albeit, time tarnished snapshot of life 40 years ago.
These past four decades have seen a significant change both in the life of the Christian church and Australia as a nation. The reality of that change was recently brought into the light with the release of the 2016 Census data. Not surprisingly, the shrinking number of Australians who associate themselves with religion has sent commentators into all types of analysis. These figures, combined with the increasing multicultural and secular environment prevailing in our modern society, bring into question the view of Australia being ‘Christian’. Critics of our faith and belief well may proclaim that as a nation we are losing our religion.
The biggest challenge for the Christian church, and in our case the Uniting Church, is to hold firm to our faith and not be ashamed of the Gospel which calls us to be part of the world in which we belong. More than ever our reputations are at stake yet we can still play our part in the broader society demonstrating a true willingness to ensure that indeed the Church can be part of our nation.
Allan Gibson OAM
Uniting on Facebook
‘Prayers that Unite’ is a Facebook group set up early in 2016 as a forum for individuals to share prayers they have written for others to use, particularly in public worship. The initiative arose out of recognition of members in the Uniting Church writing wonderful prayers. Those prayers have emerged and are shared at moments when we yearn to articulate common-felt experience in response to significant events in the world.
Examples are times of natural disaster such as major bushfires and the recent Grenfell Tower fire. ‘Prayers that Unite’ creates a repository for prayers to be rapidly disseminated across the church.
I am writing to invite people who use Facebook to avail themselves of that resource, or to make their own contribution.
Another Facebook group has also been created called ‘Uniting in Contemplation’. This group is for those people who have discovered the wonderful dimension of contemplative Christian disciplines. More and more people are discovering spiritual disciplines such as Lectio Divina, the Examen, and Centering Prayer. This Facebook group supports people in these practices and creates opportunities for people to share their experiences.
I hope there will be a follow-on from this Facebook group where people in congregations or presbyteries might start ‘Uniting in Contemplation’ gatherings. In the Hunter Presbytery of NSW, such a group is being established to meet monthly. People will gather together to share some silence, give new spiritual disciplines a try, support each other in goal setting in spiritual growth, and develop events that will encourage renewal of spiritual disciplines in the wider church.
This is a letter of invitation to join the Facebook groups, or start up a gathering generating mutual support in contemplative practices. You can contact me at
email@example.com or M: 0427625502.
Rev Tom Stuart
Minister of the Word
Charlestown & Garden Suburb Congregation
Vote on marraige
The government’s failure to go ahead with the plebiscite on ‘same-sex marriage’ as promised by Mr Turnbull during the election campaign has got to be a big worry for today’s parents and parents-to-be. Leaving religiosity aside, and remembering how Margaret Court was so viciously bullied by the same sex lobbyists, I am amazed that our politicians don’t appreciate how the majority of Australians feel on the issue.
The latest opinion poll I saw reported said those against same-sex marriage have grown to 55 percent. I imagine this is because the so-called ‘Safe Schools Program’ introduced by state governments was hijacked and parents, whose children were affected, did not want schools to be telling their little children they could choose whatever type of sexual relationship that ‘turns them on’.
Be that as it may, it is a worry to me to think that our government would abandon the promised plebiscite on such an important and controversial issue because the legal result of changing our current law, which provides that marriage is between a man and a woman, must require everyone, thus encompassing Muslims and Christians, to allow their children to be trained in our education system to accept same-sex relationships.
I have known both women and men who are in same-sex relationships and have had friendly relationships with some so I don’t want to come in as a critic. Our current church attitude seems to be that we should welcome everyone who comes into our midst and should not be judgmental. However, I have noticed that many parents we know, of children who are so engaged, say they are very disappointed their offspring headed off in that direction.
Notwithstanding that other countries have decided to accept same-sex marriage, the matter is still controversial and I would be urging Mr Turnbull and his government to stick to their election promise and facilitate a vote by all Australians on this issue.
Old time religion
I believe becoming a Christian means believing in the Gospel. The Good News that God loves us so much He came in the human form of Jesus to suffer death so that we can have Life. At Calvary, Jesus, the Son of God, took on our sins so that we can be reconciled to the Father. I am blessed to be in a church of like-minded believers who worship with heart and spirit.
I am aware that these beliefs may sound too passé or overworked to churches who prefer to re-interpret the ‘old-time’ religion, or unpalatable to people who want to follow Christ but find it difficult to subscribe to the belief that Jesus is much, much more than just another great teacher of morals and ethics. I can only validate my belief in Christ’s divinity on the basis that ‘the Bible tells me so.’ Everything distills down to that thing called faith. All I can do is declare my faith in His words and His Love. I believe Jesus loves me (the hymm Jesus loves me, this I know sums it up!). I believe He will never disappoint all who turn to Him. I believe Salvation is by grace through faith. I believe Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I believe religion is man reaching out for God but Christianity is when God reached out to man.
Nothing is beyond the One who spoke the universe into existence. Nowhere else than in John 1:1-4 could you find a more complete and magnificent revelation of Christ’s identity: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
And the sad truth in verse 5: “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”
(capital letters retained at author’s request)