For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless love to share: Refugees, Immigrants, and the Anglican Church in the Wollongong region from the 1970s to 1990s
The Australian national anthem makes much of the nation’s land endowments: its golden soil, being girt by sea and abounding in nature’s gifts. The other reference is in the less-sung second verse from which we’ve derived our title: “For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share”.
The city of greater Wollongong could hardly be described as having “boundless plains” compared with the more rural areas even within its own diocesan region. Yet this city, situated between the escarpment on the west and beaches on the east, has indeed shared its land withimmigrants for decades following World War II. The city has long been proudly multicultural but it has been very religious for even longer still.
The question being asked in the early 1990s by the Anglican Church in the Wollongong region was effectively this: Could the largest protestant church of an already proudly multicultural city be fulfilling its evangelical cause if it remained mono-cultural in membership and/or failed to serve its multicultural community including newly arriving immigrants? Those asking it were certainly aware of how the Anglican Church had served the multicultural community inthe preceding decade.
Two prominent ways it had served stand out. The first was a seemingly unlikely work amongSpanish-speaking grandmothers starting in 1979. This work was funded by the government, provided by the Anglican Home Mission Society, and conducted at St Michael’s Anglican Cathedral Wollongong. The second was the work amongst newly arriving Spanish-speaking refugees from Latin & Central America. This was in partnership with the government and coordinated from the diocesan office (adjacent to the Cathedral but now demolished).
The latter of these ministries was built on the former but both laid important groundwork for what was to follow. From the early 1990s onwards, in answer to the question asked above, work began amongst the new wave of refugees arriving from war-torn Europe (Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, etc.) as well as the growing international student population of the University of Wollongong.
The driving force behind all of this work amongst immigrants and refugees was a number of key individuals employed by the Anglican church who had conviction in the Christian gospel, were employed for the sole purpose of cross-cultural ministry, and who acted as mobilisers of other Christian volunteers in this work. The employment of three key individuals from 1979 to 2000 meant that, for those who’d come across the seas, the Wollongong region of the Anglican Church had boundless love to share.