Dear Inner Circle,

Wayside Chapel’s relationship with the Aboriginal community goes all the way back to our founding, when the Freedom Rides left from the front steps of the Wayside in 1965, paving the way for the referendum of ’67. Again, we commenced NAIDOC Week Celebrations on Monday morning by all of us gathering out the front of our building in Kings Cross. We were welcomed in through a smoking ceremony, which is a healing and cleansing ritual. Our Aboriginal Team walked us through it and we stood in solidarity with them, so proud of the work they do every day, also knowing that we can always do more, which involves risk, so here it goes…

A few weeks ago, I was invited to watch the premiere of a documentary, “The Final Quarter”, which chronicles the final three years of AFL legend and Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes football playing career. For those who may have forgotten or may not know, he took a stand against racism on the football field. As a consequence, every game he ever played from that moment he was boo-ed by spectators. There was a lack of leadership from the AFL that they have now acknowledged with an apology. The documentary is brilliant and brutal and doesn’t ever resolve the issue because the boo-ing never stopped, it only ceased when an exhausted Adam retired from the game. For his own health’s sake, he hasn’t appeared in the public spotlight since. We are the lesser for this. As a nation, we have a long way to go. Adam forced us to confront the relationship we have with our land’s original inhabitants. An Aboriginal comedian once joked that we treat them like silverware, brought out for special occasions and kept locked up for the rest of the year.  

It is confronting when our self-image is challenged. As a nation we prefer to think of ourselves as tolerant and accepting. I love this country, and because of this love, I need to challenge our assumption because we have a long way to go before we can honestly claim it. I fear that even writing these words will alienate some readers. I wouldn’t be any kind of pastor if silence prevailed in order to keep everyone comfortable. Adam Goodes made us feel uncomfortable, and the response from the public toward him was brutal. Can you imagine if you were audibly “boo-ed” every time you put your head out in public or when you were going about your work?

The way forward is not as hard as some may think. In fact, if you pop into Wayside you will see it every day. It is the way of relationship. Yesterday we celebrated our famous Annual NAIDOC Mob Lunch together, and the people in the room were like a piano, black and white joining together in beautiful harmony. I read recently that 90% of Australian’s do not know an Aboriginal person. A less scientific piece of wisdom, often in my conversations is that there is an inverse proportion between one’s opinions about a race and with how many people a person knows from a culture that is being judged or joked about. When two people meet, two people are changed. It’s the cure for racism. I’ve seen decades of hate toward other races, melt away in this place as people simply meet one another.

I wish you all a happy NAIDOC week and thanks for being part of our inner circle,

Jon

Jon Owen
CEO/Pastor
Wayside Chapel

PS. I will be taking Lisa and the kids away for a little holiday, so I will also take a break from writing this inner circle for the next two weeks. Looking forward to my return.

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