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Anglicans Online last updated 14 October 2018

Church leaders to make journey to Australia's heart

Australia's churches release their major `millennium' project, a journey to bring Australians together


Australia, 25 March 1999: In their first major project together, the national heads of Australia's main churches will make a pilgrimage to Uluru, in the heart of Australia's central desert. The trip is designed to highlight the need to heal divisions: between black and white Australians, between ethnic communities and between the nation's churches.

The `Reconciliation' pilgrimage, to be organised by the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA), is shaping up as the major millennium project for Australian Christians.

Cardinal Edward Clancy (left), the head of the Roman Catholic church in Australia, and Archbishop Keith Rayner (right), the head of the Anglican church in Australia, are pictured with Mr. Ray Finn, a member of the Anuangu clan group from the Uluru region, a consultant to the pilgrimage planners.
The national Anglican church leader, Melbourne Archbishop Keith Rayner, is pictured with the heads of other churches at the launch meeting of the "Pilgrimage to the Heart."
Click on either image for a larger version

Chairing the March 4 launch of the `Pilgrimage to the Heart' in Sydney, the dean of St Mary's Roman Catholic cathedral, Fr Tony Doherty called the NCCA project "a gesture with some imagination and some power .... to celebrate the end of the second of millennium of Christianity." National Anglican church leader, Melbourne's Archbishop Keith Rayner says the `spiritual' must have a place alongside the expected party-atmosphere of the millennium celebrations. "Of all the ways that have been proposed to celebrate the millennium, to me, this is the one that has most grabbed me", Archbishop Rayner said. "It's simple but I believe very expressive and has the possibility of catching for Australia the awareness that in our celebrations the spiritual has to have its very real place."

While inter-church and multicultural tensions are to be targeted by the pilgrimage, "divisions between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians" are a special focus of the trip, Archbishop Rayner said. Relations between black & white Australians are currently "at a cross-roads and as church leaders we have committed ourselves to play a significant part in the very necessary process of reconciliation", he said. "That truth which is at the heart of our faith must be expressed in the life of our nation." "We want to call upon the members of our churches and indeed the whole community in Australia to share in this challenge".

Pilgrimage bus

Around twenty national church leaders are expected to make the trip by bus arriving at Uluru for a service of reconciliation with the Governor-General on Pentecost Sunday next year (June 11, 2000). As well as the church leaders twenty young people, one representing each denomination, will make the week-long 3,000 kilometre journey which will begin in the national capital, Canberra. Organisers are seeking corporate donations and government funding to cover the costs of the trip. A bus company has already agreed to supply coaches for the pilgrimage. Internationally, it's believed to be rare for national heads of churches to engage in a joint project of this kind. The event will be held three months before the next Olympic Games in Sydney.

While the bishops are hoping the leaders' pilgrimage will capture the imagination of the churches, planners are actively discouraging suggestions that grass-roots church-goers could join in the event. Fr Tony Doherty said organisers had moved away from the idea of a mass gathering because of the "ecology around Uluru and the sensitivities of the people there" due to indigenous sacred sites in the area. Speaking at the launch Archbishop Rayner told reporters he wants to encourage Australians to take part in the pilgrimage in other "creative ways" such as a study programme but, "there are good reasons why it wouldn't be desirable to have thousands of people converging at Uluru at that time". "There would be criticism if we had a very large scale thing which could have ecological consequences", he said. "Just as a Prime Minister, whatever your political views, symbolises the country on significant occasions, so heads of churches do that for their church, and I think it's imaginative having a young person to go with them."

Cardinal Edward Clancy quipped: "Thousands and thousands of people might join us out there in the desert but we can't undertake to work the miracle of the loaves and fishes". It's not yet clear how each church will select one young person to make the pilgrimage. The Salvation Army has suggested an essay competition.

Two church leaders missing

The need for reconciliation between Australia's main churches was emphasised by the possibility that two national church leaders may not make the trip.

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) told the NCCA they support the sentiments behind the project but have decided not to take part in the pilgrimage.

The Presbyterian church is yet to decide if its national leader will take part in the journey. Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, the Rt Revd Bruce Christian says he's "totally committed to reconciliation" but he's concerned about "what sort of ecumenical service" will be held at the end of the pilgrimage. "If we go to Uluru and conduct a Christian service that (contains Christian teaching on reconciliation) we're actually insulting the non-Christian indigenous people at their own sacred site", Bruce Christian said, while if a non-Christian service is held it would be "insulting to Christian indigenous people". Mr Christian says he'll be taking part in discussions as the Pentecost service is arranged. He says he expects differences of opinion will emerge as the details of the event are planned.

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