Presented at the Annual General Meeting
Good evening everyone and thank you for your attendance tonight.
We continue to meet here at the Centre for Interfaith and Cultural Dialogue (CICD) because of the generosity of the Griffith University and in particular because of the Director of the CICD.
The Director is a well-known stalwart of Interfaith and a good friend to many of us here tonight. We appreciate being able to meet in such a beautiful setting.
It is my pleasure to present the Chairperson’s report for the Queensland Faith Communities Council (QFCC) Annual General Meeting (AGM) of 21 November, 2019.
This is the third AGM in the history of the QFCC since we were officially launched in May 2017.
In 2019, the Executive has met 6 times in accordance with our constitution – on 7 February, 14 March, 2 May, 1 August, 12 September and 24 October, and we have correctly held our two ‘open’ meetings – the General Council meeting on June 20 and tonight’s AGM.
At the first executive meeting on 7 February, it was decided that the office bearers remain in their positions of Chair (Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies), Vice Chair (Baha’i Brisbane), Secretary (Catholic Archdiocese Brisbane) and Treasurer (Pagan Hearth).
The executive committee members are from the Anglican Diocese Brisbane, Ali Shahi Sufi Order, Queensland Churches Together, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Uniting Church Queensland, Islamic Council of Queensland, International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) and Sikh Nishkam Society.
Apart from the six Executive meetings, the three sub-committees – Education, Membership and Communications – have held separate meetings and have reported back to the Executive with their findings and achievements.
Two initiatives of the Education sub-committee – the Visits to Places of Worship and the 3rd Annual Women of Faith Dinner were wonderful, successful examples of learning from each other and thereby strengthening our own faiths.
Visits to Places of Worship
This was our first foray into visiting places of worship at normal times of worship, not special ceremonies or commemorative services.
Visits were arranged to ISKCON on 8 June, Quakers on 30 June, Bosnian Mosque on 12 July, the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on 28th July and the Margaret St Synagogue of the Brisbane Hebrew Congregation on the 23rd August.
These visits were advertised initially on the QFCC website and FaceBook page and member communities then advertised to their own communities. RSVP’s were required and, in some cases, particular modes of dress were stipulated – another chance for us to learn about customs and rituals.
The response to these visits was excellent and all feedback was highly positive. We noticed attendance by people from the wider interfaith community and we hope this trend will grow.
We intend to carry this program into 2020 with 6 new faith venues.
Women of Faith Dinner
The third annual Women of Faith Dinner was another highly successful gathering with 84 women attending – a doubling of the numbers in the previous years.
All food was donated and made by members of the Executive and friends and we once again were able to use the premises of the Aspinall Centre at St. Bernard’s Parish in Upper Mt. Gravatt, for which we are very grateful. The good folk of that parish also make a meeting room available for all our Executive meetings throughout the year. We thank them for their generosity.
This dinner had representatives of 16 different faith groups and women travelled from the Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast and Brisbane areas. Our guest presenters were from the Anglican Diocese and the Islamic Council of Queensland.
Both women shared aspects of their own faith journeys and it was a privilege to hear their stories.
When 84 women get together there is never a shortage of food or talking and the success of the night was again evident by the easy mixing of everyone there. Questions were asked and answered, stories swapped, similarities discovered and differences were an opportunity for reflection and learning.
One initiative we will take up that arose from discussions at a table that night was to organise a high tea for a mother/daughter/aunty/grandmother/ type function that will appeal to the younger women. Who would have guessed that in the 21st century high teas would once again be popular with young people – but they are. Details will be available on our website and FaceBook page in the new year.
Qld Multi Faith Health Care Council (QMHCC)
On 3 October, the Secretary and Vice-Chair had a teleconference with the Chair of QMHCC. It is the peak body in Chaplaincy / Health Care and liaises with Qld Heath.
The current Council consists largely of Christians although there is a Rabbi and an Imam on their list. They are keen to have greater involvement from other faith traditions.
Similar to the Faith and Food Guide document created by QFCC, a document which outlines the understanding of death and the rituals and protocols involved from the various faith perspectives could be a worthwhile project for QFCC Education Sub-Committee in the new year.
I am very happy to report that we are continuing to grow our membership and correspondence regarding applications for Membership were received from the following:
- Multifaith Advisory and Action Group (MAAG) based on the Gold Coast;
- Ibraheem Malik for Ahmadiyya Muslim Association;
- a member of Church of Christ Scientist;
- Together for Humanity; and
- Gold Coast Sikh Association.
Item 9 on the Agenda will deal with the introduction of new members but I am very heartened by these new membership applications and I thank all concerned for their recognition of the importance and need of a diversity of faith groups which can only enrich our Queensland society.
As of August this year, QFCC now has a FaceBook page as well as our original website.
Member organisations are encouraged to advertise appropriate events on our FaceBook page and thanks go to a member of the Executive and the Secretary for setting this up and maintaining the page.
Motion of Appreciation to retiring Commissioner of Police, Ian Stewart
At the QFCC General Council Meeting in June, a suggestion from the floor, which was quickly and unanimously supported, resulted in a formal motion of thanks to be given to Police Commissioner Ian Stewart upon his retirement.
The motion was passed and the Secretary organised for it to be framed and presented to the Commissioner at a farewell function at Parliament House. Thanks go to a member of the Executive for taking this framed certificate to the function and presenting it on behalf of all our QFCC members.
The faith communities have always enjoyed a very strong and supportive relationship with the Queensland Police Service and Commissioner Ian Stewart has endeared himself to very many of us. We wish him a happy and fulfilling retirement.
‘Religious Freedom after Ruddock’ – UQ School of Law Conference, 6 April, 2019
I reported on this to the General Council meeting in June but will remind you of it again as it is of vital concern to us all.
Three representatives of QFCC attended the UQ School of Law Conference on Religious Freedom after Ruddock on Saturday 6 April and a written report was provided and reported back to the Executive.
The QFCC Executive wished to note its appreciation to a member for this report as it was very helpful and paved the way for much discussion.
To summarise, speakers from various Australian Universities spoke about the need for a Commonwealth Human Rights Act setting out a positive right to freedom of religion, noting that most Australians have a poor and often incorrect understanding of the protections afforded by existing legislation.
Speakers noted that there is no significant challenge to freedom of worship in Australia, but that issues arise primarily around freedom of speech, association and conscience, with faith-based schools becoming significant friction points, and that hostility to people of faith is evident. The event concluded with a call to maintain debate about religious freedom in the public discourse and push for considered and effective legislation.
Religious Instruction in State Schools
The Moderator of the Uniting Church in Australia and the CEO of Christian RI Alliance in Queensland were invited to attend the QFCC Executive meeting in October to give an update on the current situation. The following was reported:
- Since ~1910 religious groups have had the legal right of access to States Schools for up to an hour a week to teach RI and/or read scripture. Christians have either worked together on a mutually agreed curriculum or operated denominationally.
From the 1980s to 2016, most Christian Churches paid little attention to what was happening. Some areas had active RI programs and others had nothing.
- Around 2016 the principal at Windsor State School cancelled RI in his school as a result of pressure from some parents. A group called Parents for Secular State Schools has been active for some time.
Around this time the system also became opt-in rather than opt-out so parents had to make an active choice.
Heads of Christian Churches became concerned at these developments and looked at ways to support RI.
- In late 2018, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by 14 Christian denominations and 5 other faith groups and a Peak Body was set up to manage the response. An unincorporated body called Christian Alliance was also set up beneath the Multi-Faith umbrella to provide a space for Christians to work together.
The purpose has been to strengthen the presence of RI in curriculum time. RI taught by people of faith has a very different impact to the Study of Religion as an academic exercise.
It was advised that:
- Data on the number of children attending RI classes is not good because the Department of Education does not keep records. It is really an arrangement between faith groups and the local schools.
- Faiths involved are Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh.
- RIQA is the Religious Instruction Quality Assurance Group – 20 people meet with the Department of Education once a term.
- The Multi-Faith RI Peak Body has a growing sense of unity and trust is being built.
- Principals are responsible for the curriculum used in their schools. Current curriculum is being reviewed by Peak body to ensure that it is good – best practice.
- Accreditation of teachers – need a Blue Card and local schools safety program, training/ in-service programs being developed.
- The Christian Alliance is focussing on fundraising for training.
Multi-Faith Prayers in Parliament
We are hopeful that these prayer sessions at the commencement of the parliamentary season will be re-introduced in the new year with the assistance of a well known politician. It has been an on-going discussion for the last 2-3 years. We will keep you updated.
2019 has been a very tough year for people of faith. We have endured massacres in places of worship in New Zealand, in the USA, in Sri Lanka, and only 5 weeks ago in Halle, Germany. That was an attempted massacre and the people in the synagogue were only saved because they had heavy wooden doors…but two innocent passers-by were murdered.
So sadly, you will hear in the next section many vigils mentioned. We all gathered together on these sad occasions to pay our respects to those who were senselessly murdered while at prayer.
The strong sense of community and togetherness, however, sent a signal that we rally in times of sadness because at the heart of everything we are all brothers and sisters.
Invitations and Events I attended in 2019
- February 03: World Interfaith Harmony Week – prayer – Spiritual Assembly of Baha’is in Brisbane. Spoke.
- 17 – Ahmadiyya Women’s Seminar – Women’s Rights in my Faith. Spoke.
- 27 – GOPIA – Prayer Vigil for 40 Indian soldiers murdered in Pulwama, India. Spoke.
- March 04: Secretary and I attended MAAG meeting on Gold Coast.
- 05 – South Brisbane Police District Multi Faith morning tea.
- 16 – Invitation to speak at Vedanta Multi-faFith centre, Springfield. Unfortunately for me, I was unexpectedly needed to help my mother get to hospital so a representative stood in for me with my speech.
- 17 – Prayer Vigil – Islamic College, Karawatha – Christchurch massacre.
- 23 – Prayer Vigil – Islamic College, Durack – Christchurch massacre.
- 28 – Griffith Uni Muslim Students association and Griffith Chaplaincy Prayer Vigil and Dinner – Christchurch massacre. Another member of the Executive and I presented.
- April 28: Mass at St Stephen’s Cathedral – Sri Lankan Easter Sunday massacre.
- May 03: Prayer Vigil at Brisbane Hebrew Congregation, for San Diego Synagogue shooting.
- 11 – ISKCON Festival of Chariots, King George Square – spoke.
- 14 – Iftar Dinner – Parliament House – QIS.
- 16 – Iftar dinner –Griffith University – QIS.
- 19 – The Secretary, a member and I met with the new Islamic Council of Queensland Board at their office in Underwood so that we could meet the new personnel and explain the workings of the QFCC.
- 27 – Iftar dinner – Sunnybank, Lord Mayor’s Iftar Dinner.
- June 08: Eid Fest and visit to ISKCON temple service. (I was unwell, but a representative went).
- 16 – SOFIA – Sea of Faith group – spoke on Faith and Culture at their symposium held at the Art Gallery.
- August 05: MAAG AGM. The Secretary and I drove to the Gold Coast for the first AGM of MAAG at the Baha’i Centre, Ashmore. A new Committee was elected..
- 07 – Franciscan Schools National Conference Multi-Faith Prayer, Brisbane Room, City Hall. A number of QFCC Executive members very generously offered prayer on behalf of their faith traditions.
- 09 – The Secretary and I met with the organiser of The Feast, an interfaith initiative in Birmingham, UK. An acquaintence, who worked with the organiser and is now employed by Scripture Union to do interfaith training for chaplains in State Schools, introduced us.
- 15 – The Abbey Symposium, Caboolture. Many QFCC Executive members attended this day and another member of the Executive and I were presenters.
Congratulations go to The Abbey Church and their team for organising this inaugural conference in the first 12 months of them forming the multi-faith group at The Abbey.
- 15 – Queensland Police Service Multi-Faith Dinner. Again, most of the QFCC Executive were able to attend and a member of the Executive provided the closing prayer. It was another good night, especially for networking.
- 29 – The Qld Forum for Jews, Christians and Muslims held their annual ‘One G-d, Many Voices’ Concert and once again an enjoyable and inspirational night was had by all.
- September – overseas 😊
- October 17: Vigil for shootings on Yom Kippur in Halle, Germany at the Margaret St synagogue, BHC.
- 23 – Men of Faith Dinner at Govindas, West End.
Obviously, I did not attend but ‘Congratulations’ to members of the Executive for organising this event which will be held again next year. I believe it was not as noisy as the Women’s dinner but the food was just as good!
I want to sincerely thank everyone on the Executive for volunteering their time and expertise yet again to ensure that the QFCC is the best it can be. Everyone has contributed their knowledge and skills and our meetings pack a lot into the three hours.
A special mention to our Secretary and our Treasurer and our Vice Chair for the extra responsibilities they have undertaken.
In particular, the Secretaries drive and organisational skills and her passion for ecumenism are paramount to the success of this organisation.
Most of us here in the room are volunteers. Volunteers are the best people to be around because they believe in what they are doing, this is a passion that money just cannot buy, although a grant now and then would be a great help!
I want to thank all of you here tonight for your support and friendship and for volunteering your precious time to make our society a better place.
I am encouraged by the new members we are gaining, I am encouraged by the diversity of our group and I am encouraged by the willingness of so many to stand up proudly as people of faith, to recognise that there are greater powers than ourselves, that sometimes there are mysteries that can’t be explained away by facts and statistics.
Sometimes you just have to have faith.
Queensland Faith Communities Council