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The world is our parish

Kaylea Fearn at the lectern at St Paul's Cathedral

The ministry work of the Chaplains at Wesley College occurs in many ways, not least when they’re in their ‘day-to-day clothes,’ as Kaylea Fearn explains.

After a Chapel service earlier this year, one of the Preps asked me earnestly, ’Pastor Fearn, why were you wearing karate clothes in assembly this morning?’ It took me a moment to realise that she was referring to my alb, and I explained that they were actually ‘church clothes’! It was a great reminder that our students more clearly understand our ministry work when we’re in our ‘ordinary clothes,’ and in our day-to-day interactions, than when we’re leading worship.

The fact that our students recognise their Chaplains in their day-to-day clothes rather than their church clothes is a healthy indicator that they really engage with the work of the Uniting Church to act for the common good, promote inclusiveness, fairness and equity, and protect all creation and the planet we live on, in authentic and meaningful ways.

And that’s good news: it shows that Wesley College’s relationship with the Uniting Church is much more than a historical, institutional bond; it’s a partnership that develops in new and exciting ways as we work together to express and live out our common values.

What does partnership look like? There are many examples.

Making a difference through community action

Our relationship with the Richmond Churches Food Centre, which has blossomed through our Year 8 volunteering program and our whole-campus Can-struction competition at Elsternwick, is a great example of the way Wesley and the Uniting Church is making a difference through community action.

Our students care deeply about the people who access food each week at the Food Centre. They have learnt so much from seeing how community action makes a difference to those who live on the edges of society. This sort of service learning is at the heart of our ethos and is built into our International Baccalaureate curriculum at Wesley – and I can’t help but think that John Wesley himself would be inspired by our partnership.

Climate change and Tuvalu

When Year 6 students met with Alexandra Bingham, a filmmaker and partnerships coordinator for UnitingWorld, a sustainable community development organisation of the Uniting Church, they were able to delve deeply into how climate change has affected the people of Tuvalu in the Pacific.

Midway between Hawaii and Australia, Tuvalu – the fourth smallest nation in the world – is already struggling as it deals with rising temperatures, more intense and frequent storm surges and associated inundations and erosion, decreasing rainfall, increasingly salty soil, food insecurity and a growing incidence of climate-related illnesses like influenza, fungal diseases, conjunctivitis and dengue fever. Two of Tuvalu’s nine islands are already on the verge of disappearing.

Our concerned students explored the international nature of disaster-preparedness, a growing community development industry. Alexandra’s on-the-ground experience gave them an insider view into a place very few people have ever ventured. This type of access would not have been possible if it weren’t for the close connection between the Uniting Church in Australia and the Uniting Church of Tuvalu.

Indigenous incarceration

Our Elsternwick Wesmob group engaged in an advocacy campaign questioning the high rate of Indigenous incarceration in Australia, which the Uniting Church facilitated during NAIDOC Week.

I am blessed to witness many examples like these where students have refused to accept the status quo and have worked to make positive change in our world.

John Wesley once said, ‘The world is my parish.’ As Chaplain, my hope is that I can inspire our students to see that true religion is not just something that happens within the confines of the chapel, or when we wear our ‘karate clothes,’ but something that manifests itself in every act that brings love, peace and reconciliation.

Pastor Kaylea Fearn is the Chaplain at Wesley’s Elsternwick Campus