In several traditional parishes in Melbourne, the reality they are coming to terms with is the Empty Nest, exceptions notwithstanding. While the expatriates try and cling on to their Gods, the locals have almost lost a few generations from being churched. Some are attracted to the prosperity gospel in the offer in new age churches. The others say they were never really brought up with the ‘God thought’. Is it a post-God generation that I am called to connect to, I wonder. The nation, in the post-Gold rush era, has a mostly compliant civil society. The market square is full of people fitting the “all is well” mould. But I see the emptiness that needs filling and in that I see relevance in staying on a bit more before returning to my roots.
St. Matthews has been declared a parish again. A decade ago, when the Melbourne administration found it unviable, they decided to close it down. Several parishes closed during that time or were sold off—some are now pubs. When St. Matthews was closed down, the elderly congregation refused to move from there. To have their ashes interned in the Memorial Garden in the campus was their right, they reckoned. They sought a persistent fight and looked at ways of being viable. Finally, after a decade’s wait, they have been declared a parish again. During all these years, over 70 elderly parishioners gave a simple message: “Don’t give up, miracles do happen. When all hope dies just keep looking for that little flicker of hope.”
Australia has been discussing its policy on refugees and asylum seekers. And who’s making the call—the ones who came in boats themselves just a century or two ago. “Pre-date the order to 1788”, read a poster on the streets. Had those ‘original’ immigrants not arrived; this nation would have had all its natural wealth, including the original inhabitants of the land, intact. The art and culture of the ‘original’ people would not have been museum pieces and their culture of opening their shores to people who came in the boats would not have died off. Each of these official meetings begins by paying respects to the land, the air and the people to whom it all actually belonged. Hearing this, one can’t help say: “stop this play acting”. This place is now being usurped by a few who fear they would lose what never belonged to them to begin with. In Melbourne, most people think that the other is a foreigner and does not deserve to be here. Well, there are exceptions. And I apologise to these exceptions—all the good Australians. But, it is true that in the name of border security what is being done is, mostly, not very human.
A Boss called his employee for tea one afternoon. There, he handed him a letter saying: “Sorry we are constrained to make your position redundant”, which translates to-”You are losing your job from today.” This has been a harsh reality of life for several people in the city. Several parishioners, who came from India were tool makers and their spouses nurses. Now, with more and more industries leaving Australia’s shores for cheaper options, most tool makers are either left redundant or are forced to change professions. Some have huge mortgages on their homes and cars. At the end of the day, they are just bruised human beings struggling to find meaning and essence to life. The pastor has no quick fix solutions, but to help people not to give up on life is indeed a worthy task.
This time when I was returning from home, I was determined that the long immigration queues of bag checks be avoided. So when people came to me with some home-made food and medicines to take for their dear ones in Melbourne, I had to very politely refuse to carry them. When the immigration card came to me at the airport, I was happy to fill in that there was nothing to declare. The person standing in front of me in the queue also had nothing to declare and both of us went to the same officer. He showed the way to the exit door to the one in front of me, then looked at me for a while and asked me to join another queue. And lo and behold, a sniffer dog was waiting on the other end to smell my bag. I was fuming, not because the dog did its duty, but because when two people had the same declaration, the colour of the skin decided who should go to the dogs. While I tried to console myself saying this was just a routine security check, the incident still haunts me.
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) declared Melbourne the ‘world’s most liveable city’ this year. But it is so only for some. The rest, mostly Indians, have to do three or four jobs round the clock to earn a living.
The writer is the vicar of Ashburton, an Anglican priest, and a temporary resident
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