A number of parishes within the Diocese are living out the teachings of the bible by ministering to and alongside refugee communities. The Church of the Good Shepherd in Curtin has a thriving Karen membership of around 70 adults and children.
There are currently around 350 Karen people living throughout Canberra. Karen are an ethnic group from Burma but most have arrived in Canberra through Australia’s Humanitarian Refugee Resettlement Programme via refugee camps in Thailand.
Many of those in Canberra have previously spent considerable time in Mae La, the largest refugee camp for Burmese people in Thailand, which houses about 40,000 refugees, 90% of whom are ethnic Karen.
The Karen fled to these camps to escape armed conflict, and ethnic persecution by the Burmese government. In Karen State many villages were burned to the ground, including houses, churches, schools, belongings and food crops.
Many of the Karen at the Good Shepherd attend the 9.30am Sunday service, but there is also a 12.30pm service in the Karen language led by the Reverend Luther, an ordained Anglican Priest who arrived in Canberra from Mae La in 2014.
In past years the longer term members of Good Shepherd were able to provide material, spiritual and administrative support to newly arrived Karen refugees. In more recent years the Karen community at the church has taken on much of the support for new arrivals.
The Reverend Guy Matthews, Rec-tor, says ‘Our Karen brothers and sisters are keen to serve in whatever way they can on our Sunday rosters and see themselves not as an independent congregation but very much a part of the Good Shepherd’.
The Karen are represented on Parish Council and, with a passion for singing, they keenly serve in music ministry including at the Curtin community Carol service. Karen in Canberra maintain good connections with Karen people in other part of NSW and Victoria by regularly visiting each others’ churches. The Good Shepherd has hosted numerous visiting Karen groups from Sydney, Melbourne and Geelong.
by Reverend Guy Matthews
Rector, Good Shepherd Anglican