Vicar General, Archdeacon Cameron Venables
Just after 'First Turkey' on the walking track that ascends Mt Archer in Rockhampton is a rocky cliff with a fig tree growing out of a crack. There is a wide net of old roots splayed over the face of the rock suggesting that this tenacious plant has survived many years. The fact that it has grown without soil and endured long periods without rain reminds me of a quality found in most people who live on the land in our Diocese. When you've done everything right, but it doesn't rain at the right time... or it doesn't rain at all! When your stock is dying for lack of feed and there's no market for them. When the banks refuse to extend your loan, and bureaucrats in far-away places make decisions that chop the legs from under you... you have to be RESILIENT!
Resilience is also a quality I find repeatedly in my work with refugees and asylum seekers. Whether they are from the Sudan, or Afghanistan, or Burma... they are people who have had to run in fear of their lives. They have usually travelled long and dangerous roads to get away from the country of their birth, and they've found their way to overcrowded and under resourced refugee camps... but through it all they hope they will find a safer place to live. When they've been told by UNHCR officials that it may be fourteen years before their request to settle in a Western country can be processed some have given up hope... while others have borrowed money and paid someone to bring them to Australia on a boat.
Under the current government these people will never be allowed to settle in Australia even after their refugee status is verified. So they wait in limbo on Christmas Island, in Manus, and on Nauru their resilience sorely tested, their hope fading. To add to their despair a new policy was introduced in January that declared if you came to Australia by boat after 2003 and you were in the process of sponsoring your family... their application would go to the bottom of the list. Even if you were a Permanent Resident, working hard to provide for your family who were stuck in a dangerous camp far away... your application would now take upwards of ten years to be processed. Hopes dashed, resilience crushed, anger (rioting), and despair... where to from here?
I think Christian faith has much to say about our response to those who live in the drought affected communities of our Diocese, and to those refugees and asylum seekers being held in our detention centres: for we are called to love our neighbour. That love will lead us at least to pray, but it may also lead to many kinds of creative action. That action may include advocacy to government for policies that empower our primary producers, and to policies that honour international agreements about refugees.
May God's Spirit give wisdom to all in authority, and move us with compassion in the coming journey of Lent.
Yours in Christ
Vicar General, Archdeacon Cameron Venables
In 1964 Bob Dylan released his well-known song, The Times they are a-Changin', and the melody could be a theme for our Diocese at this stage of our life together! For after ten years of Episcopal leadership in Rockhampton Bishop Godfrey formally retired when he laid up the Pastoral Staff on Friday 13th December. So please pray for Bishop Godfrey and Bronwyn as they settle into their new home and enjoy Christmas with family and friends in Brisbane. Please also pray for members of the Bishopric Election Board as they work together over the next few months to discern and elect the next Bishop of Rockhampton.
At this time of the year most people are looking forward to Christmas and as I've asked Primary students at school over recent weeks what they were looking forward to there has been talk of presents and food and holidays! I wonder what you look forward to?
There are at least two things I love about Christmas and I share them with you in the hope that they resonate. The first is that Christmas gives me the opportunity to be thankful for the people I too often take for granted. This finds expression in card writing, gift-giving, telephone calls, and time shared over food. There is a gift for me in this because as I reaffirm the loving relationships I share with other people... I have a renewed sense of thankfulness to God for the privilege of life...
...and in the midst of this comes a profound sense of wonder at the birth of Jesus. This is the second reason I love Christmas - not that a baby was born in an occupied territory 2000 years ago, but that God was uniquely present in that baby. Indeed the man he became redefined humanity's opportunity to be in loving relationship with God.
So we can read about a baby being born in the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan and recognise the vulnerability that comes with being born. We can see a photo of a Syrian refugee mother and son and be reminded of the journey into Egypt that Mary and Joseph had to take to escape Herod's persecution. I think so much of the Christmas story is in 'our' story.
So may the angels sing to the shepherd in you; may the Spirit guide the magi in you; and in the stable of your heart may the love of God be born again. Renewed in hope and purpose may we travel the unfolding journey of 2014.
Yours in Christ,
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