Praying for Freedom: Manly Uniting Church’s protest against child detention
The Manly Uniting Church community is using its church as a powerful symbolic space to highlight the confinement and deprivation of asylum seekers on Nauru.
Led by their Minister Rev. John Barker, Manly Uniting Church members are holding ongoing prayer vigils and periods of fasting to demonstrate their sadness at the plight of asylum seeker children on Nauru and to show their commitment to ending child detention.
Congregation members hope their symbolic demonstration will urge the Federal Government to make humane changes and that by raising their voices collectively, they can better support those unable to speak for themselves.
The initiative by the Manly congregation has included 80 hour-long prayer vigils as well as sustained and spontaneous fasting. The Church is staying open for extended hours and is offering a peaceful and inclusive environment for members of the church and the local community to visit, show their support and reflect on their own feelings about the situation.
Rev. Barker, also the Minister for Balgowlah Uniting Church, said it was learning about the horrific conditions on Nauru and thinking about his own children that inspired him to act. “My decision to take a public stand came from a simple but deeply personal conviction,” he said. “I placed myself, as a Father, in the picture and imagined my own children in the circumstances which Nauru represents.”
Rev. Barker strongly encourages other individuals and Uniting Church congregations to take action as a part of their mission and as an expression of faith. “In the context of our faith, we have the responsibility to respond as if they were our own children,” he says. He believes that the Church has the ability to protest powerfully through “symbolic messages of light” and that the peaceful protest at Manly has energised Church members, giving them a sense of purpose and reigniting their passion for justice for people seeking asylum. One parishioner reflected that in the moment of prayer she “contrasted the reality of the (Church) space with that of the detention centre on Nauru,” lamenting that for asylum seekers in detention “their disempowerment has denied them a voice.”
In the midst of ongoing protest, growing public debate and seemingly intractable Government policy on this issue, it’s no surprise that many find themselves feeling fatigued and powerless, questioning whether their voices are being heard. However, Uniting’s Social Justice Forum (SJF) team hope that, through a growth in congregational engagement and a coming together of the Church on this issue, momentum will continue to build and justice can be achieved. As part of the Give Hope: Uniting for Asylum Seekers Campaign, the team is working on advocating for a government-led, multi-partisan National Policy Summit – as advocated by over 2,000 Australian academics. The Summit would look seriously at alternatives to the current offshore processing regime and regional framework, which could potentially lead to an end to mandatory indefinite detention for people seeking asylum.
The SJF team is encouraging all Church members to write letters to their local Federal MPs expressing, in their own words, why they want a National Summit to find a better way. Alongside this, the team is prepared to assist any congregation, group or individual interested in getting involved in their own symbolic action – whether it be a prayer vigil or special service. To amplify the message and maximise its effectiveness, congregations are asked to make contact with local non-Uniting churches and members of their local community and get them involved. Through widespread participation and engagement with this, the Uniting Church community is showing that they’ve had enough and that its time for a better way.
As one Manly parishioner so eloquently put it, “while the immigration issue defies easy solutions, our response simply cannot be to lock up children.”
To discuss ways your congregation can get involved and for more information on the call for a national summit, contact the SJF team: firstname.lastname@example.org