Westgate, religious diversity, and hansard

Our little community received a mention in the Australian Parliament this week, as the House of Representatives debated the (now failed) Religious Discrimination Bill 2021. Here’s part of what our local MP, Tim Watts, an atheist, said:

Respect for diversity of religious faith is a normal part of our experience in my community in Melbourne’s west. And we are so much richer for it, because, while their source of faith might be diverse, their motive towards community service is universal. We tell our kids to, in a crisis, look for the helpers. Well, in my community all too often in a crisis the helpers are driven to go to the scene and help by their faith. Sikh Volunteers Australia have become famous Australia wide for their constant presence anywhere where there is a crisis in our community. Where there are members of our community in distress, you can bank on the Sikh volunteers being there in their famous high-viz vests, colourful turbans and smiling bearded faces. Across the Black Summer bushfires and the two years of the pandemic that followed, they have served well over 100,000 free meals from their trusty Free Food Van, taking the langar of the Gurudwara on the road to where it’s needed most. Look for a crisis and you’ll see them there. We’re so proud of them.

Then you have the Australian Islamic Centre volunteers from the Newport mosque—an architectural icon of Melbourne’s west that we are so proud of in its own right, a powerhouse community group. They don’t just look out for people in our own backyard but go looking for fellow Australians in need everywhere. During the Black Summer bushfires, volunteers from the Newport mosque collected five semitrailer loads full of donations, drove them to Bairnsdale at three o’clock in the morning and, with the assistance of the MFB and the CFA, put on a breakfast sausage sizzle for exhausted firefighters. It was quite the logistical enterprise and it earned them international television coverage. I’m so proud to be their representative in this chamber.

We’re also home to one of Australia’s largest Buddhist temples in Melbourne’s west, Quang Minh Temple. Their volunteers delivered $33,000 worth of donations to the CFA in Bairnsdale and the CFA District 11 Headquarters Brigade during the Back Summer bushfires. Senior Venerable Thich Phuoc Tan, the abbot of Quang Minh, is a model of ethical leadership in the country and someone I know all local political representatives in Melbourne’s west draw guidance and inspiration from. He’s a great bloke to spend time with.

Christian groups, too, are a wonderful source of charitable works in our communities, staffing food vans for the disadvantaged and providing essential support for the vulnerable, especially the significant asylum seeker community in Melbourne’s west. The Westgate Baptist community shares its ministry and facilities with a growing congregation of Karen refugees from Myanmar and has for many years provided direct material support for refugees in the camps on the Thai-Myanmar border, as well as providing direct support for our refugees in our own community through the ministry of Westgate Refugee Support.

These people of faith in our community in Melbourne’s west make our community a better place. They’re the kinds of people of faith who make me embarrassed of the militant atheism of people like Richard Dawkins, who are so arrogant in their intellectual certainty that they can’t recognise fundamental human decency when it’s right there in front of their eyes. I would be furious if anyone discriminated against any of these people of faith in my community on the basis of their religion or religious practices.

Tim’s full speech can be accessed here.

Westgate Baptist arms Karen Community against Covid

Last Saturday [9 October 2021], Westgate Baptist Community in Yarraville became a pop-up vaccination hub for the Karen community.

Several thousand Karen live in Melbourne’s western suburbs in local government areas heavily impacted by COVID. Like many other refugee and migrant communities, the Karen are more likely to live in large, multigenerational households and be essential workers – factors that increase their risk of being infected. At the same time, language and cultural barriers have made it a struggle for the Karen community to be vaccinated.

The pop-up vaccination hub was organised by Dr Lester Mascarenhas and Say Htoo Eh. Dr Lester Mascarenhas is founder of Utopia Refugee and Asylum Seeker Health, and a passionate advocate of overcoming language and cultural barriers to making health care accessible. Say Htoo Eh is a settlement worker with Wyndham Community Education Centre, and Church Secretary at Westgate Baptist Karen Community Church.

Two online information sessions were held to promote the pop-up vaccination hub. The first was organised by Laverton P-12 College, a government school where more than a quarter of the students are Karen Christians and Buddhists. Supported by a Karen interpreter, Dr Lester explained the benefits of COVID vaccination, dispelled a few myths, and answered questions. Also speaking at the information session were Pastor Gail Moe Dweh from Werribee Karen Baptist Church and Venerable Moonieinda from the Karen Buddhist community in Bendigo. Pastor Gail Moe affirmed there are no objections to Christians receiving the COVID vaccination, and said he had himself received one dose of the vaccine himself with no ill effects. Venerable Moonieinda said that in Bendigo more than a thousand Karen have already been vaccinated including 400 Karen who were vaccinated at a pop-up hub at the Karen Buddhist monastery. In communities where faith is central, the support of faith leaders is as important as accurate medical information.

Dr Lester also spoke at a second information session organised by Westgate Karen Baptist Community Church. The Department of Health supported the sessions with health information translated into Karen.

The information sessions achieved their goal, and 183 Karen were vaccinated at Westgate Baptist Community by a team of doctors and nurses supported by Karen church volunteers. Many older or recently arrived Karen have limited English and support from volunteer interpreters was crucial. Rev. Neville Taylor, senior pastor of Westgate’s English-language congregation, also came as a volunteer. Buddhists as well as Christians were vaccinated, and it was an opportunity to bring the two communities together.

The pop-up vaccination hub at Westgate Baptist Community did more than just get vaccines into people’s arms. When the church became the vaccination hub the Karen changed from being recipients of vaccines, to having ownership of COVID vaccination. Healing the sick – sometimes in synagogues – was a major part of Jesus’ ministry and it is hard to imagine Jesus wouldn’t approve of protecting people against COVID, especially in a church. But Jesus always asked people what they wanted before he healed them, and it is equally likely Jesus would have approved of the Karen being partners in their healthcare and COVID vaccinations.

Article by Martin West. Reposted from BUV Good News Stories.

Good Friday Service (2 April)

We’re delighted to once again join with Pilgrim Uniting Church and St. Augustine’s Catholic Church for our annual Good Friday service. This year the whole service and morning tea will be held at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church at 9:30am, 71 Somerville Rd, Yarraville. 

WBC will be hosting the morning tea in St. Augustine’s hall next to the church. Please see Nev if you’re able to assist with the set up and serving.

Our Easter Sunday Service will be at 10am, 16 High Street Yarraville.

Back to in-person worship at 16 High Street

We are very excited to be heading back to 16 High Street for our regular 10am worship services. Starting this Sunday 31 January we will meet ‘in person’ once again. Luke Bowen will be leading, the Karen Youth Band playing, and Nev be leading the reflection. The service will be followed by morning tea and our first Community Meeting for 2021.

We have prepared a ‘covid safe plan’ that’ll require some thoughtfulness in how we gather. So, what to expect? 

  • You will need to register on arrival using the provided QR code. We have some tech savvy assistants to help if required.
  • Hand sanitiser and masks will be available in the foyer.
  • As you enter the front foyer, please try to maintain a 1.5 meter distance.
  • Please be thoughtful about how you greet one another. We are advised to try and maintain appropriate social distancing.
  • Seating will be spread out.
  • Masks are not compulsory but are advised when singing.
  • Tea and coffee will be served to you.
  • A steward will pass the offering plate around rather than everyone touching it.
  • All seating and high touch areas will be cleaned after the service.

Thank you for your patience and support as we try to incorporate all recommended health requirements. 

An update on worship

Please note that we will continue to meet via Zoom each Sunday at 10am, with a view to resuming worship at 16 High St, Yarraville, on Sunday 31 January 2021.

Don’t forget the Christmas BBQ for the whole family at 5:30pm Sunday 20 December, 16 High St, Yarraville.

The Christmas Day service will also take place via Zoom, at 10am.