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Wednesday, 22 June 1994
Page: 1853

Senator WOODLEY (12.51 p.m.) —On Monday in this chamber I moved a notice of motion to congratulate the churches in their formation of a new body to be called the National Council of Churches in Australia. This body will replace the Australian Council of Churches, which represented a much smaller number of churches. Today it is worthwhile congratulating the churches on their coming together in this way.

  I would like to indicate that the service of inauguration will take place on Sunday, 3 July at 7.30 in the evening. The celebration will be held at St Christopher's Cathedral at Manuka. It is very appropriate that the national parliament should acknowledge the formation in the national capital of this particular body.

  In reading some of the material which has been circulated on this issue, I agree with the Editor of the In Unity magazine that the inauguration, we trust, will take place in the context of the praise of God and that our new National Council of Churches will come into being to fulfil the hopes and dreams of the many people who have worked together to enable this event to take place. It is interesting that the new body will encompass most of the Christian denominations in Australia—although not all—including the Orthodox churches, the Roman Catholic church, the Anglican church and a number of the Protestant churches.

  Many delegates from across Australia will be here in the national capital, and I believe that all of the political parties represented in this parliament will have representatives at that celebration. The Anglican Primate of Australia, Keith Rayner, will be the special preacher on the occasion, and I believe the ABC plans to cover the event. Since we have criticised the ABC for some of the events it has covered from time to time, we should congratulate it for covering this event.

  Before the inauguration the representatives of the churches will spend time together in retreat for prayer and guided reflection. The two days following the inauguration will be given over to business: setting directions and choosing the leadership for the new body. The new body and those who have been active in bringing it into formation have asked people to pray for them and to join them in the celebration if they are within reach of Canberra on that particular Sunday.

  I would like to pay tribute to a number of people who I know have been active in the journey which has brought the churches to this point. I pay tribute to Jean Skuse, the General Secretary of the Australian Council of Churches from 1976 to 1988. She is a woman of great talent and prophetic ability who often stood alone in some of the causes she took up, yet history and time have proven that in all of those stances she was not only prophetic but also correct.

  In the information which has been circulated to underline this particular celebration there are some of Jean Skuse's reflections, and I would like to read a couple of her comments into the record. As general secretary of the ACC she saw that:

A characteristic of the seventies and early eighties was the rise of peoples' movements around the globe—civil rights, black power, feminism, the shift in the development debate from charity to justice, and various other liberation movements. All were confronting the existing models of power.

The challenge for the churches at that time was the inseparability of the unity of the church from the unity of humankind. While churches and councils around the world were struggling to find the right formulae for agreed statements people were meeting in informal ecumenical networks for prayer and social action.

The contribution of the laity has always been important for ecumenical renewal and one only needs to compare old and recent photographs to see how the face of ecumenism has changed over the years to be more representative of those who are the Church.

Of course, Jean Skuse herself was a lay woman and that underlines her contribution. I would indicate that this new body will represent 85 per cent of Christians in Australia, and if discussions with the Lutheran church bear fruit this week the body will represent 87 per cent of Christians in Australia.

  I congratulate Bishop Bede Heather from the Roman Catholic church and Bishop Richard Appleby from the Anglican church, co-conveners of the working group, on bringing about this historic coming together of the churches. In 1988 the Australian Council of Churches at its general meeting invited non-members of that body to dream, to think and to pray. The result of all that work is the unique balance of very large groupings of churches—Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant—within this new body.

  So we come in this place today to acknowledge the symbol of hope and reconciliation which the coming together of these people and these churches symbolise. We recognise the work of the Australian Council of Churches through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission—work which bore fruit in the passing of the native title legislation last year. I join with the National Council of Churches in Australia in urging all people to pray for this historic moment in the journey not only of the churches but of all humankind towards unity.