In our increasingly multi-faith and multi-cultural society, one challenge is how we find both meaningful and inclusive ways to celebrate, commemorate, lament and strengthen bonds of peace and harmony. On the one hand, erasing spiritual expression in the name of secular unity impoverishes and leaves us short of the depth and connections which community ritual can bring. On the other, it is not enough today simply to settle regularly for one expression of faith leadership, however well tried, nor just to include several such expressions (at the risk of length, tedium, and exclusion of other 'minority' voices). In Toowoomba, we have employed various approaches in recent years for important community gatherings and recognition of disaster and tragedy. Depending on circumstances, through the Toowoomba Goodwill Committee, we have both used traditional means and venues and multi-faith representation, and have also begun to create new pathways.
One of the most moving explorative community rituals was at Acland on Australia Day 2015 - see further here - but we have also developed a number of 'community affirmations' for special occasions, including Harmony Day - see here for a well-established example. Last Sunday was another wonderful step forward. Together with Toowoomba Regional Council, it was a delight, as chair of the Toowoomba Goodwill Committee, to work with the Nepalese Association of Toowoomba on a commemorative event to mark the Nepal earthquake last year. Using the lovely new Civic Square space at the new Toowoomba Library, we shared stories, music, video clips from Nepal, and a moving candlelight vigil - first lighting and circling the area with candles and then placing them by the water. It was a powerful expression of lament and commitment to renewal and of the binding of our different lives and backgrounds together to celebrate, support and heal our shared city and world.
My own contribution to the event is below - a new community affirmation for such occasions I hope we can develop further with other elements in the future:
TOOWOOMBA STANDING TOGETHER
Community Affirmation in the face of disaster and emergency
We meet today to affirm and support each other.
We acknowledge the first peoples of this land and their continued gifts among us.
We welcome all who join us in our shared journey of peace and harmony.
May we always celebrate our diversity as central to our common life and fruitfulness.
We stand with one another – Toowoomba Together
We meet today to share and honour our pain and sadness.
We hold with tenderness all that is hurting among us and in our broken world.
We offer up our sorrow, heartache and compassion.
May our tears and grief be transformed into healing and renewal.
We stand with one another – Toowoomba Together
We meet today to strengthen hope and solidarity.
We pledge ourselves to rebuild with love and courage.
We seek to do all we can to rejuvenate what has been destroyed.
May our hearts and hands always reach out to those in need, wherever they may be.
We stand with one another – Toowoomba Together:
many outlooks, many cultures – one community.
Forget the UPF anti-Muslim banner stunt at the MCG. Australians are generally much more civilised than most in dealing with religious and cultural diversity. This afternoon in Toowoomba was a case in point. Our Toowoomba Garden City Mosque is in serious need of re-building, following the fire almost a year ago. What to do? Why not, said our local Muslim community, ask the neighbours round for a cup of tea to talk it through? - and not with the slick presentation and glossy leaflet plans some groups might effect. So it was that, as chair of the Toowoomba Goodwill Committee, I also joined a goodly gathering of people from the immediate vicinity of the mosque for a meet and greet and disperse any heat. After all, I am an ethnically English Australian, and what is more English than a cup of tea (especially when you can be the vicar popping round)?
This kind of holy humdrum action is typical of community life in Toowoomba and further afield. Sadly, such widespread generous connections rarely get the attention the hotheads do. It is certainly very much representative of Muslim-wider community relationships in our city here. In one sense, it is simply just another step in the journey. Yet every stage matters, not least when there may be concerns about new local construction and the footprint it may provide. In this case, the plan is to remove the old de-mountable and extend the mosque (previously an old church building), widen the roof space but retaining the existing height limits, add three metres to the front to provide space for genuinely appropriate toliets and washing facilities, and put in a mezzanine level to enable women's space.
It was a delight to see and be part of the warm and genial conversations (even over parking), and to hear of the generosity of other locals, like one of our (other than Muslim) city lawyers who has provided legal advice towards the rebuilding for free. All of us enjoyed our time together and look forward to the next steps which will bring fresh community as well as physical environment pride to us all.
After the recent bombings in Paris, our Toowoomba Gooodwill Committee leadership decided to hold a gathering to bring together community leaders to strengthen our social cohesion and resilience. Held at the University of Southern Queensland this was well attended, facilitated by Professor Michael Cuthill and expert in research on social cohesion. Speakers also included the Mayor of Toowoomba Cllr Paul Antonio, Inspector Mike Curtin from Queensland Police Service, Venerable Wu Ping from Pure Land Learning College, Professor Ken Udas from USQ, and university student Sophie Ryan. Bishop Cameron Venables also led an engaging question and answer session with the panel of speakers and contributions from the floor - not least a several positive contributions from members of the Toowoomba Muslim community. Key themes included positivity, whole community engagement, valuing diversity, partnership building, leadership into action, open and truthful education, and acknowledgement of the need to read sacred scriptures and traditions in context and with a deep spirit of love and humanity, acknowledging potential 'texts of terror'. For my own introductory words as Goodwill chairperson click below on read more...
This morning a number of members of the Toowoomba Goodwill Committee met at St. Luke's to consider ways to strengthen our city wide work of peace and harmony in the face of violent events overseas. Several of us in Toowoomba have been to Paris in recent years to speak and work with UNESCO on peacemaking in our world. So there is a particular extra poignant sadness among us at the recent events in the French capital. Our hearts and prayers also however go out to those who have suffered similarly in Beirut and other places in recent days. All this reinforces our need to work more closely together for peace at all levels, to educate and address religious bigotry, and to extend a compassionate and informed welcome to refugees who are escaping from just the kind of horrors the media has reported.
We join with the Taize Community in France in the following prayer:
Eternal God, we want our thoughts and acts to be based on your presence which is the source of our hope.
We entrust to you the victims of the attacks in Paris and in Beirut, and in so many other places and their families and friends as they mourn.
With believers of all backgrounds we call upon your name and pray: may your peace come to our world.
A wonderful recent new addition to the Toowoomba CBD is a peace mural on Neil Street. The Peace and Harmony mural concept was initiated by the Toowoomba Goodwill Committee of which I am currently chair and it was a delight to assist in the development of the mural, particularly through a fundraising meal at our All Saints centre. For the Goodwill Committee’s goal is to develop Toowoomba as a city of Peace and Harmony through interfaith and multicultural dialog and activities. There are a number of groups within the Toowoomba community working on violence prevention, community safety and social cohesion, social justice and helping people in need of support and assistance. Each of these organisations is helping to make Toowoomba a better place to live, work and raise families. The Goodwill Committee aims to help focus and harness this work together and to raise the profile of peace and harmony through a variety of creative means.
A working group which included representatives from the Goodwill Committee, Toowoomba Youth Service and the First Coat art festival decided on a theme of “One and the same” for a mural in Toowoomba. Internationally renowned Melbourne based artist Adnate (see above working on the project) was approached to see if he would be involved in doing a peace and harmony portrait for Toowoomba. The artist supported the concept and agreed to come to Toowoomba to do a mural. The artist also worked with Toowoomba youth agencies while he was in Toowoomba, engaged with young people during the completion of the mural and also attended some organised community engagements and youth workshops. Several young people from the Toowoomba Youth services “All Type” youth mentoring program supported the artist over the weekend and were tasked with recording the progress of the mural.
The artist decided to do a mural of an Aboriginal youth in recognition of aboriginal people for whom he has a great respect. He had spent time studying and associating with Aboriginal people in various places across Australia growing in his understanding of their culture. The connection of the mural to peace is in the beauty of the face, sky and land and recognising the Australian Aboriginal as the first people who have a rich cultural background. In some ways we are all different but in some ways we are the same.
We realise that one mural does not solve our social problems but it a positive step towards recognition of aboriginal people and their cultural history. Art is very subjective and people will inevitably interpret the mural in different ways. We hope people will accept it as a beautiful piece of art to be enjoyed by Toowoomba people and visitors alike.
This week I spent two days reflecting together with others on the next steps in the journey of peace and harmony in Toowoomba. The first day was with other members of the Goodwill Committee, developed at the invitation of the Pure Land Learning College to help give community direction to the Pure Land Venerable Master's vision of Toowoomba as 'a model city' of peace and harmony. On the second day we joined by some other wonderful key community leaders, acting as 'critical friends' to help take forward our hopes and ideas. Thanks are also due to Prof Michael Cuthill of USQ for his able facilitation. For it was a very profitable time, developing our structure (even if I was asked to be GWC chair for the forthcoming year!), our shared sense of purpose and key areas of partnership with others. GWC groups are now working particularly on specifics for: the development of agreed community values for our work, Indigenous engagement, youth engagement, peace art, further multi-faith understanding and action, and grounding our connections with UNESCO through official partnerships such as the 'Creative Cities' program.
Jo Inkpin an Anglican priest, trans woman, theologian and justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice and sustainable creation.