On the first weekend in March I was invited by the visionary and energetic rector of the parish of St John the Evangelist to come and meet with his congregations in Coffs Harbour, many of whom are resettled people from Sudan who came there as refugees. Coffs Harbour is one of several designated resettlement locations for refugees.
Fr Ian Mabey was keen for his parish to engage in a very proactive and reciprocal way with ABM, and saw ABM's new relationship with the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS) as an ideal means to activate this engagement. As well as preaching at three Eucharists, I was also asked to specifically address two meetings of local Sudanese Anglicans who form part of the regular congregations. The Sudanese groups, comprising women and men (accompanied by many children), were eager both to know what ABM was doing with the Episcopal Church in Sudan, and to tell me some of their own frustrations in trying to "do something" for the Sudanese people back home, but wanting to ensure their money was being used effectively to make some kind of positive difference to people's lives.
We talked about how ABM works to help build church capacity to provide much-needed health, education and humanitarian services. Building the capacity of the local church is much more important to ABM than trying to implement programs directly, because we believe that if we build local capacity, the health and education services we support will have long term sustainability.
I also spoke about how ABM monitors the progress of our programs, and the pains we go to to ensure that funds are used in transparent and accountable ways.
|Fr Ian Mabey and Kassimiro Yangan|
In South Sudan, ABM supports the church to respond to both urgent humanitarian needs --border and internal violent conflicts are sadly an ongoing part of life -- as well as those areas requiring significant long-term planning and coordination, like health and education.
In Coffs Harbour, Fr Ian presides over a very diverse community of Anglicans. It is a vibrant mix of elderly, middle-aged, young and very young. And the relative newcomers from Sudan and other countries feel welcomed by the longer-established members of the congregation. On the Sunday of my visit, a baby and teenager were baptized, and two teenagers, including a young man originally from Burma, made their first communion. Kassimiro Yangan, from Sudan, was commissioned as parish councillor, along with longer established members of the parish.
It was a privilege to be able to represent ABM in this exciting engagement with a parish that surely represents the future face of Anglicanism in Australia, and the future face iof ABM interacting with the Australian church.
Dr Julianne Stewart