Lutheran Church of Australia Synod Dinner

Lutheran Church of Australia Bundaberg

2018 June, 2

Lutheran Church of Australia Synod Dinner

Thank you very much Michael, my brother from St Peter's. You wouldn't believe I played five-eighth for the first 15. I was captain of my year. I kind of regard myself as a Mark Ella brain trapped in a kind of Kim Beazley body.


My life has been filled with blessings and my first blessings were my parents. What a tremendously precious thing it is to have good parents. A friend of mine said to me a few years ago - many years ago actually - that the job of parents is to give their children good memories, that thought has been in my mind ever since I've had children. But all of my memories of my parents and my family are memories that I treasure. I wouldn't give up my childhood in Hope Vale for quids. If I had my time again, I would not choose anything other than the life in the Mission that I grew up in. It was a very rich place. It afforded all of us a rich childhood. And I had the great fortune of coming along at a time when the doors of opportunity had started to open. After a long and hard history, the fruits of my grandparents and parents and the opportunities that the church had opened up with education meant that I had a completely privileged life. Hardly a day goes by when I'm not reminded of that. We were placed in good stead. By the time I grew up in primary school, I had a very good education at the hands of our one-time St. Peter's boy, Mr Schiewe. He was, I think, the head boy in 1965 when I was born and he came and served at our school for 10 years. And so many other Lutheran teachers at whose feet I learned at the Hope Vale State School. I just feel that I had the opportunity at a fortuitous time in our history. I think things started to fall apart after the '70s. I was extremely distressed that the very precious and important things that my grandparents had built and their generation had built were starting to crumble in our community. I think we went through a phase through the '70s and '80s and the '90s where some very important achievements were not sustained and we couldn't defend our values and I fear that the work to which I have been dedicated has been an attempt to rebuild the strong things that I treasured in my early childhood. I think the church got it wrong during that transition phase and I think we got it wrong. We threw the baby out with the bathwater. And we repent. We dearly repent that, having taken place. I have high expectations for my people. It's one thing that perhaps I'm a bit more stringent on than our church leaders. I have much more of an old tradition about what we could be and what we should expect of one another and I've been distressed at the social problems that have accumulated amongst our people. We should have built on the strong foundations that the Mission had bequeathed to us and particularly our church elders bequeathed to us in the Mission.


I want to say tonight that part of my blessings was, of course, coming to St Peter's when Bishop Paul was a senior and Lois was really my big sister. I was a very young boy from Hope Vale and I was adopted by Lois and her girlfriends and they looked after me in my earliest years there. They made life at St Peter's such an easy acclimatisation. Michael and so many other friends remind me that my years at school were the best years of my life. I've never been part of a community that has been as rich and precious as my school community. I'm just so grateful to once again see some of my friends here tonight.


Don Schiewe said - I think it was in Grade 4 - he said, "If this boy doesn't go to university, I'll eat my hat." I didn't even know what university was and my parents never did. I think my father harboured some forlorn hope that I'd end up at the seminary and he would not have been pleased that I went to university. But nevertheless, it was Don Schiewe who planted the idea that I should go to university. I carried that with me ever since he planted the idea in my head. My father had always taught me, and he found it in some book that I think the pastor at the time had given him. He had a little bookshelf in his room. It was stacked with all of these kind of leftover books and he and I would scour that shelf for something to read. It was mainly really dense studies of various Old Testament books but anyway one of those books taught him a Francis Bacon line which he would constantly reiterate to us. "Reading makes a full man." And ever since I was a little kid, he would say that. While we were slopping the pigs, he'd be saying, "Reading makes a full man."


So, on the tombstone of my father's grave is that great verse from Hebrews 13. "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith." It's a constant line in my head, that line from Hebrews 13. And on my mother's tombstone is that great verse from Romans 8 and I speak it in the Kuku Yalanji language. My mum comes from down at the Bloomfield River Mission. “Wanyanka ngananga ngami-ngami-bungal nyungundumun?”  "Who can separate us from the love of Christ?"


I want to say to the church and this Synod, what a blessing it was to grow up in Hope Vale and to have been supported by this Synod over many decades. So many thankless workers at the Mission deserve our gratitude. Of course, the story goes back a long way to 1886 and Johann Flierl was on his way to PNG and stopped by in Cooktown for 12 months and founded the Mission at Cape Bedford. And Georg Heinrich Schwarz then came as a 19-year-old in 1887 and would stay for 50, dying in 1959 and is buried at the cemetery at Hope Vale. Without that young missionary, we would have been done. The frontier situation of our people - the Guugu Yimithirr people in the Cooktown hinterland - was in a parlous state, very quickly, very early in our history. And Muni as he was called, Georg Heinrich Schwarz, provided a haven from the violence of the frontier. We would have been left to extinction had he not provided that shelter. I'm a student of our history and when I went to Sydney University, I did a history thesis on the history of our Mission. And, of course, the great event that happened in 1942 was our removal to Central Queensland to a place called Woorabinda and the internment of our missionary because he was German. I sought to understand the reasons why our Mission in particular was removed south and discovered in my research that the army had had a plan for the removal of northern settlements right across the north. There was a fear that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander missions and settlements would join with the Japanese in the event of an invasion and the plan was only put into effect in the relation to one such settlement - Cape Bedford - and Cape Bedford was targeted because of its German association. And, of course, scores and scores of our people died in exile in Woorabinda and, in our tradition, we regard those seven years as our years of bondage down south in an alien land before Joh Bjelke-Petersen returned us to our promised country. I think many of you are familiar with that history and the work of this Synod in many decades past in supporting our return to what is now Hope Vale. And we have had dozens and dozens, hundreds of church workers support us in our work and life in North Queensland.


I want to talk about three things and share a couple of thoughts with you.


First, I want to talk about identity. I also want to talk about culture and I want to talk about our doctrine as Lutherans. Of course, we have an identity and I promote the idea that we have layers of identity, all of us, everyone. We don't just have one identity. We have many identities and these layers live inside our breasts. The layers of identity that I've inherited include my membership of the Guugu Yimithirr people and specifically my clan and extended family, one of which, my cousin Selena, is here at the Synod. We're all part of a specific traditional identity. But we're also part of a Cape Bedford Mission, which saw children brought from all over the state, from the tip of Cape York Peninsula and from Longreach in Central Queensland, young children brought into the Mission and we formed a new identity as a Guugu Yimithirr people at Cape Bedford Mission. But, of course, sometimes I'm a Cape Yorker. That's my identity or a North Queenslander. I say to people down south, "Well, I am part of a tribe that plays the game they play in heaven and I cannot identify with those tribes down south."


So, we all have layers of identity that connect us with people and of course our Lutheran faith and our membership of the Church is an identity we share right across Australia and, indeed, as Pastor George Rosendale once said, "Our spiritual home in Nuendettelsau, Bavaria". So, we have in our breasts layers of identity. We're not just one. We are bridges with communities all across Australia. My dream for the future of the Guugu Yimithirr people is that our Lutherans, any of our Lutherans across the country will adopt the Guugu Yimithirr language and it will be taught in Lutheran schools and it will be part of our identity as people connected to our Mission. I think Australians should adopt the native languages of this country. If we're going to preserve those languages, we should connect the churches that are associated with these missions with those languages and help sustain our linguistic community, which is such an important aspect of our identity at Hope Vale. I had the great fortune of having an education that meant, like the earliest girls in our Mission history, literate in both English and the Guugu Yimithirr language. The girls in 1900 were writing to the protector of aborigines in their own tongue. And Muni understood. Missionary Muni understood from the very earliest days that the language that spoke to our hearts was our own and he made the translation of the hymns and the translation of the Gospel his most urgent work. So, I want to enjoin this Synod in an important consideration that supporting our indigenous languages across the country is an important heritage of our Church but an important task for the future. So, I have a strong sense of identity. There's no Hope Vale person that doesn't have a strong sense of identity with the Church at large and this strange German Lutheran connection we have. So, in one sense we are a tribe connected across the country.


I had the great fortune of spending some time with Pastor John Kleinig in Adelaide for three days I had, to reconnect with him. I had last seen him when I was fourteen years old and I remember how heartbroken I was when he left St. Peter's. It was really a distressing thing for me that this pastor that I felt.... I didn't even know that he knew who I was but nevertheless I was distressed when he went off to Cambridge to study and all these many years later, I reconnected with him as if 38 years or whatever hadn't passed. And he and I spent a lot of time in conversation down in Adelaide recently. I also had the great blessing of having Pastor Leo Doecke as a chaplain at St Peter's. I still remember this sermon he gave when I was in Year 9 or something. He said, "You know, Chapel is not about entertainment. We're not here to have fun." And I really appreciated that actually. And we were at Luther Heights Coolum, I was fourteen years old and I'd discovered the surf and boogie boarding for the first time. And we were all summoned to have a little conference with him, one by one, at the end of the week that we spent there. And Pastor Doecke said, "You know you're going to be a leader." I didn't know what he was talking about and I said, "Yeah ok well, I need to go back to the beach." But his prescience, or curse - I'm not sure if it was prescience or a curse - has always stuck with me.


But our identity is not our doctrine and our culture - I'm a Guugu Yimithirr German. That's my culture. The church and its history have imbued me with the culture of my parents and grandparents, which is a mixture of some strong German culture mixed with the Guugu Yimithirr culture. That is my culture but it is not our doctrine. Our doctrine is a wider door than our culture. I was thinking about this. This is a thought that I want to share with you. I'm not sure that I'm completely right in this but I've been thinking about this for a very long time. Because our culture is human. It is God's gift but it is our human life, whereas our doctrine is something different. Our doctrine is wider than our culture. If we had a church that was a proper metaphor for our doctrine, it would have a door 360 degrees open. Anybody could come into our church from any angle and find succour. That is the nature of our doctrine because we're saved by God's grace. We should be the most open Church to any human with any failing, with any shortcoming, regardless of culture. Ours is the most open Church and if Martin Luther was about anything, he was about the Gospel of Grace, that nothing we can do can save us, as we all know. It's God's grace that saves us. So, I imagine that our challenges how do we keep and celebrate our culture because it is a gift from God too but at the same time avoid the door of culture being narrower than the door of our doctrine. It's a challenge I think for our Church. How is it that the narrower confines of our culture don’t result in us, the aperture of our Church being narrower than our teaching. And it's a thought that's been on my mind for decades. According to our doctrinal foundations, no church is more inclusive than ours, if we follow our founders’ teaching. Ours should be the Church that's open to anyone, not just in a kind of rhetorical way but in an actual way. And to what extent is our culture narrowing the door. Of course, there are very great things about the culture. The human gift given to us as a Church is also a splendidly beautiful thing and I don't know how we work that out. Because there are great strengths in our culture but the concern I have is that we should be the church with 360 degree door and people from the outside should be able to detect that, that ours is a Church, not with a narrow opening. Ours is a Church that is there for the greatest sinners and people of different cultures and different backgrounds.


I really want to thank Bishop Paul for this great opportunity to speak at this Synod dinner. I share with him the sense of great blessing we had for our education in Brisbane. I am so grateful for the support that our Church has had for our Aboriginal Mission in North Queensland. As I said earlier, I've never failed to appreciate the enormous selflessness that our Church workers, from lay workers right up to our ministry, gave us over the course of a century. I'm disappointed that leadership within our indigenous Church has not flourished in the way that it should after such strong foundations in the post-war period, leading up to the 50's and 60's. We should have been in a position where indigenous ministry should have been in a very different place today. I think we went through a phase of great confusion and trepidation but we should see ourselves as having gone through that now and that we should be confident about our history. We should be confident about a future indigenous ministry and I would love nothing more than to see future generations of Guugu Yimithirr leaders in the Church. I don't think we're going to overcome our parlous social problems without our faith, and that's the piece that we haven't got right. We have seen our problems as purely secular problems and our solutions as secular solutions, when we all know that there's the important fundamental underpinning of the moral state of our community.


So, thank you Bishop Paul for giving me the invitation to talk here tonight. I've been very proud of our association. I wanted to enjoin you in supporting indigenous ministry in the future. I want to underline, once again, the importance of our languages to that ministry. I also want us to think about this idea that the strong identity and culture that we have is a great engine for us and a great gift for us but at the same time I think we better give much clearer thought to the extent to which it creates a smaller doorway to our promise than there should be.


Thank you.