Sunday, May 21, 2006

Crossing cultures in a Geelong conference

A conference on multicultural and cross-cultural ministry organised by the Uniting Church was in our city of Geelong this last weekend. The chairman was Rev. Liva Tukutama, originally from Niue, who is a minister in Canberra. Over 150 people from as far away as the Kimberleys and Perth came to the Geelong Conference Centre in Eastern Park, only 10 minutes walk from our house. It seemed that about half of the delegates were Pacific Islanders - originally from Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Niue. It was great to see Sudanese young men, men and women from Sri Lankan background, Chinese, Korean, and several Aboriginal people from the Aboriginal and Islander Congress.

Friday night
On Friday night the welcome service was at Wesley Church in the city area of Geelong and I met many people I haven't seen for many years. The service started with a loud didgeridoo drone and an acknowledgement that we were on Wautharong Aboriginal land and Barbara Abley, who was once the Mayor of Geelong, welcomed the delegates to Geelong. Then leaders from various ethnic groups led the service.

About 18 Fijians from Melbourne came to our house by midday for lunch and preparation for a presentation of yaqona at 4 p.m. as part of the Conference. This meant rehearsing the chant, the dance movements, preparing the costumes. Our son was included in the performance as a warrior and had to learn the dance. Also an Australian theological student became a warrior for the day. We drove to Narana, the venue for the afternoon/evening program and rearranged the furniture, put out mats and masi. The hall was circular and decorated with lovely Aboriginal art and craftwork. The Fijian presentation went very well, with proper protocol and grace and the young men danced and performed perfectly. Vince Ross then told his story to the meeting and some of the stories about Narana.

We went home before the barbecue and mixed kava for a friend, then more groups of friends from Griffith (a town in New South Wales where there are many Islanders) and other places - who were in the conference, came to our home to drink yaqona until nearly midnight.

One excellent speaker was Rev. Jason Kioa (originally from Tonga) who is the Moderator Elect or Victoria. He had an amazing story to tell, how he was once in the Maribyrnong Detention Centre as an illegal immigrant and after three years of court cases when he was not allowed to work, he and his family were allowed to stay on in Australia. Then he commenced his studies towards becoming a minister. After several years, he now has the high status as the incoming Moderator of the Uniting Church in our state of Victoria.

Musician Amelia Koh Bulter taught songs from the new Multicultural Songbook and during the final worship played lots of great world music on the piano. Earlier we had sung a song Bahasa Kasih/The Language of Love with verses in Indonesian, Tongan, English and Korean.

Discussion groups talked about youth-elder difficulties, language use, migrant clergy, how Sudanese refugees find the culture so difficult especially in relation to their women, ethnic groups sharing church property with the criticism of leaving pork fat on the floor, etc. The topic of sexuality did not get much time though a few minutes of heated talk showed that there are still different attitudes regarding gay leaders in the church - some have a view to be inclusive, others say no.

There is a difference between the term 'multicultural' and 'cross-cultural'. The first can mean separation into ethnic groups, the second is about moving across barriers to include people of a variety of cultural experiences. Both are the reality of experiences within the Uniting Church. Young people seem to prefer the second model while their grandparents still cling to keeping their cultural difference in church organisations and practice.

The conference concluded with worship and communion led by an Aboriginal minister. One of the main themes of the conference was the relationships between the Aboriginal and Islander Congress and the rest of the Uniting Church.

Some of the best moments of the day were in simply talking with people over coffee and muffins, making new friends, exchanging email addresses and phone numbers. Though much of the talk up front was predictable, it was enriching to hear the stories of many people from all over Australia in their struggle to cross cultures and push the boundaries away from dominant hosts and to be more like a family of brothers and sisters.


Blogger Pandabonium said...

Interesting day with a lively bunch.

4:35 AM  

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