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Vicar's Musings for Ordinary Sunday 9

2 June, 2013

Last Wednesday evening there were two important social-justice events being held in the Diocese. Fr Samuel, on behalf of St Peter's Eastern Hill, went to the launch of the Diocesan Reconciliation Action Plan, at St Paul's Cathderal. Meanwhile I attended Evensong at St Mark's, Fitzroy, where the well known gay bishop, Gene Robinson, addressed a standing-room-only congregation. It has been said by many people, from Churchill to Dostoyevsky, that "Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members." This is as true of the church as it is of any organisation or community. A question we might ask ourselves at St Peter's is: do we truly follow the example of Jesus, who was profoundly open to those shunned and treated unjustly by society? Jesus' way is so much more than tolerance; it requires of us loving action.

Judith Wright's haunting poem, "Nigger's Leap: New England," tells one of the horrific stories of genocide in early settler history.

Against this sheer and limelit granite head.
Swallow the spine of range; be dark, O lonely air.
Make a cold quilt across the bone and skull
That screamed falling in flesh from the lipped cliff
And then were silent, waiting for flies.

The poem is set at Point Lookout, an outcrop of rocks near a favourite family camping ground that Wright often visited as a child. It is a dramatic landscape that seemed magical to her as a child, but as the poet grew up she became increasingly aware of the ominous history behind an alternative name for the outcrop: Darkie Point. This was an execution site, a place where numerous Aborigines were forced off the cliffs, massacred as punishment for stealing cattle. There are many such stories across Australia. Although perhaps not so dramatically, it is undoubtedly part of our history here at St Peter's, built in 1846 on land that was far from terra nullius.

In his address on Wednesday night, Bishop Gene Robinson thanked God that he is gay. He said that it gives him a glimpse into what it is like to be an indigenous person, or a woman fighting for equality, or anyone else facing discrimination. At question time a person stood up and spoke of the fear that gay clergy experience in the church today. Bishop Gene spoke of courage: "courage is fear that has said its prayers." He encouraged all of us who seek justice to keep going, and told a story about moving fences. During the First World War two soldiers took their friend, who had been killed in battle, to a country church wanting him to be buried. The priest asked if the dead man was baptised, and his friends had to admit that he was not. That being the case, the priest said he was very sorry, but the man would have to be buried outside the white picket fence that surrounded the graveyard. The men were disappointed but respected the priest's wishes. At the end of the war, they returned to the church to pay their respects, but could not find their friend's grave. They knocked at the door of the Presbytery and the priest took them to their friend's grave. It was in the same place, but he had moved the fence. The friend's grave was now in the graveyard.

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster

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