Last week we mentioned the national memorial service for the bushfires – it was held on Sunday 22 February.
We noted that there had been one reference to it being ‘interfaith’ but that had been later reported as being ‘non-denominational’. . .
So what was the service really like?
The word we’d probably use to describe the service is ‘secular’.
It was hosted by ABC newsreader Ian Henderson and started with an Aboriginal ‘welcome to country’ by aboriginal elder Joy Murphy.
There were speeches by community representatives and members of the emergency services. The Governor General spoke with so many ‘platitudes’ it was hard to know what she really said, and Princess Anne gave a touching message from the Queen and herself.
There was talk of courage and resilience. There was no naming of the individuals who died – perhaps that was because the list is not final and the coroner’s reports have not been completed.
There were also speeches by religious leaders.
Interestingly, the Catholic Archbishop Denis Hart appeared as one of five ‘prominent community leaders’, along with the Mayor of Murrindindi Shire Lyn Gunter, Ted Baillieu and Police Commissioner Christine Nixon among others.
Next came the ‘interfaith’ representatives. . .  
The Anglican Archbishop, Philip Freier, was first to speak and while he was speaking the Muslim mufti (Sheik Fehmi Naji el-Imam), a Jewish rabbi, a Buddhist, a Sikh, a Baha’i, a Coptic priest and the Moderator of the Uniting Church proceeded to the platform.
Interestingly only three of these people spoke:
Following Archbishop Philip Freier, speaking and leading in the Lord’s prayer, a Buddhist nun Venerable Chi Kwang Sunim, and Jason Kioa, the Moderator of the VicTas Synod of the Uniting Church spoke.
The other religious leaders didn’t say anything. They all then left the stage.
Another aspect that seemed to remind us of Buddhism was the bell tolling at the beginning, bell chimes between speakers and participants given little bells to ring!!!
So the memorial service did include an ‘interfaith’ element, but the focus wasn’t an ‘interfaith service’.
One question: One wonders why the Catholic Archbishop didn’t appear with all the other ‘religious leaders’? Was it the organisers decision, or didn’t he want to appear with the ‘interfaith’ group?
The PM’s speech
The service concluded with a speech by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. He focused on the values of “courage, compassion and steely resilience”.
In his speech he mentioned that every year on 7 February flags will be flown at half mast and a minute’s silence will be held for the victims of these bushfires.
This sets a precedent for future disasters. Will we hold a minute’s silence for every one of them as well? How many different days of remembrance will we end up with?
And what of those who have died or suffered in previous bushfires or in Bali or 9/11 or earthquakes etc?  These are sad events, and we grieve with those who have suffered, but is this ‘nationalising grief’?
The service concluded with two songs – You are, we are Australian by Bruce Woodley and his daughter – he wrote two new verses reflecting the bushfire situation; a Kinglake couple joined them to sing the song. The final song was Touch by Michael Paynter who is a young Melbourne singer.
Finally . . .
Whilst the memorial ‘service’ gave an opportunity for reflection, there were those who thought it was too early to hold such a service, with the fires still burning, bodies still being found and names of the dead not confirmed. The main Stadium was only half full with many of those affected by the bushfires choosing to stay in their communities, where they watched the memorial service on screens.
Another aspect to question was the fact that the memorial service was held at 11 am on Sunday morning, when many Christians would be attending regular church services.

Media reports: The Australian
Please pray for those re-establishing their lives, for those grieving the loss of loved ones, for those still facing threats from the fires and for Christians reaching out to neighbours and friends affected by the fires.

Peter and Jenny Stokes

2 Responses to “Salt Shakers E-News: Reflections On The ‘National Memorial Service’”

  1. 1 Carolyn Southam

    I grieve for Australia, once founded on Christian values and now embracing the gods of the nations.

    Come, Holy Spirit, convict us of our sin and turn our hearts back to the true and living God.

    Every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

  2. 2 roger norris-green

    I feel that the service, although not what some Christians would agree to, was at least an attempt to unite
    Australians in our collective grief. We need to thank God that our leaders at least made an attempt at
    collective worship. There were some elements of the service which were very moving.

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