The leadership of Australia’s mainstream churches may sometimes seem slightly silent on boat people, but a Gosford Anglican reverend is at the forefront of a grassroots movement impatient with waiting for religious hierarchies to get their acts together.
Father Rod Bower’s pithy and sometimes trenchant musings appear daily on the notice board outside his church in Mann Street, Gosford.
They’ve gone viral thanks to Facebook and Twitter.
Instead of delivering a short sermon to the central coast, the internet meme-storm means between 80,000 and 500,000 people around the world sometimes see Fr Bower's wit and wisdom.
On Monday he posted: "Joining our hearts to the disappeared’’ to encapsulate concern about the fate of Sri Lankans handed over by the Abbott government to Colombo authorities.
On Sunday he put up a sign: ‘‘Wishing our Muslim friends a holy Ramadan’’. Saturday’s ‘‘Acknowledging 50,000 years of settlement’’ was a direct slap in the face to the Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s words on the eve of NAIDOC Week.
‘‘Mr Abbott's Freudian Slip with regard to Australia's First Nations history was telling. It not only betrayed his Euro-centric world view and his lack of appreciation of Indigenous culture but also revealed that to him land has no value other than economic. For Mr Abbott the environment is a commodity to be exploited and nothing more...Explains a lot really,’’ Fr Bower said.
Born near the Barrington Tops, he entered the family meat trade before going to theological college at 27.
Now 51, Fr Bower only took to the internet a year ago, posting a photo of the church's sign board in Mann St with the message "Dear Christians, some people are gay, get over it, Love God".
Within 24 hours, the post had more than 100,000 hits. Soon he had national and worldwide audiences.
For instance, his neat reversal posted last Melbourne Cup day, "The nation that stops all races", scored 500,000 plus hits.
Fr Bower sledges both the Abbott government and Labor on boat people and said he had the unofficial imprimatur of his Bishop.
‘‘Sadly the media tends to ignore statements put out by the bishops,’’ he said. ‘‘Churches take a really long time to change and its usually achieved by people chipping away at the edges... there is a clear understanding of what my signs represent."
But there have been complaints.
‘‘I am often criticised by my Christian brothers and sisters for not putting biblical things on the sign (whatever that means). So I was reflecting on our current situation with asylum seekers in the context of Holy Scripture, and not being one for quoting long slabs of sacred text I thought I would use the shortest verse available:
‘‘John 15:35: ‘Jesus Wept’.’’