In a scenario that was unforeseen last year, the Australian National Prayer Breakfast was once again held as an online event this year. Many groups around the Diocese gathered together on Monday 8 November over breakfast to live-stream the event, including one in the newly refurbished ADS Boardroom at London Circuit.
Karen Pang, of Play School fame, was the Master of Ceremonies, live from the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra. She introduced The Honourable Amanda Stoker, Senator for Queensland, and Mr Luke Gosling, Federal Representative of Darwin and Palmerston for the NT, the co-chairs of the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship.
Senator Stoker began, ‘At the National Prayer Breakfast each year people of faith from across this great country come together to celebrate the way that our belief in God drives our service, whether it be in helping the needy in our community, educating people in our schools or indeed serving in our Parliament. And it’s an opportunity to both say thanks for that work and to support in prayer those who serve in our Parliaments, that they might do so with wisdom and with humility.’ Senator Gosling then shared why he prays, as a reminder of God’s love and source of solace, for help and perspective in his troubles.
Selina Walker, an Elder of the Ngunnawal People, then gave the ‘you may leave footprints on our land’, or in other words ‘welcome to country’.
The opening address once again came from His Excellency The Governor-General of Australia, the Honourable David Hurley. He shared that he has often recently, in speeches, used the phrase ‘just give us a good season’ to describe our collective national hopes for the future of post-pandemic Australia. The expression came from a conversation with property owners and managers in the gulf country following a devastating flood, after a comment on the hard work ahead of them. One of them replied ‘we are not afraid of hard work, just give us a good season’. His Excellency said, ‘I apply that sentiment when I speak about our collective efforts to both respond to the pandemic and to recover as we begin to break the pandemic’s grip. Now we seek a good season, a better brighter future, as a reward for that effort.’
‘The bible contains many analogies of the abundance of God’s grace and the richness of the harvest, the produce of a good season. These images give us hope and a sense of understanding of the future that God has promised … We as Christians also rejoice in the prospect of a good season. And it’s a good season that manifests itself on a number of levels. For Christians living in Victoria, the ACT and NSW a good season is upon us where we can again worship in person. The community of believers is being restored in a tangible sense as we move from participation in virtual services to gathering together … Another good season is fast approaching as well, as we look forward to our celebrations of Christmas. The message of love and hope in the new covenant, as promised, will have a powerful effect during a time of healing and restoration in our country. And we all look forward to an eternal good season, when the harvest occurs and God gathers his flock to his side.’
Karen Pang then interviewed Aunty Agnes Shea, Ngunnawal Elder, about why and when she prays, before Aunty Agnes then prayed for the country. Year 12 students from two Christian Colleges in WA offered prayers for our leaders and nation.
Phillip Heath, AM, Head of Barker College in NSW, prayed for our youth, education and families. He thanked God for all those who provide for, love and guide their children, and asked that they be sustained with patience and energy, and granted immeasurable wisdom to meet the challenges of raising this generation; and prayed for those who teach, that they may ‘continue to grow in knowledge, creativity, communication and care as they continue to play a crucial role in the shaping of the youngest minds and hearts of this country’. He asked God to protect our children and our youth, that they might know peace and belonging in their families, schools, churches and communities, and receive support and care when they experience struggles and hardships of any kind, and be guarded from illness, abuse and harm. He closed by praying ‘Finally we entrust this generation to you. May they learn truth, foster empathy, grow in integrity and depend on you as their redeemer and creator and shepherd. Prepare them now, through their education, to lead Australia in the decades to come, with justice and peace, and to wisely use the resources of this wonderful land for the benefit and welfare of all.’
Steve Baird, CEO of International Justice Mission, prayed for the marginalised, all those beyond our awareness, our vision and too often beyond our care, those pushed away, those who have fled, those in hiding or fearing for their lives, those escaping tyranny and violence, those with mental health challenges, the lonely, the unfriended, the afflicted, the ostracised. He asked that God would ‘continue to change us. Transform our hearts and lives so our individual actions and corporate behaviours, and our public policy, might embody your character and the love of your son, Jesus Christ. For we recognise that only as we receive the rejected, only as we welcome the stranger, only as we bring healing to the broken, will we truly become the nation you call us to be …’.
Mandy Manggurra, from Nungalingya College, then gave an indigenous prayer in Kriol. Dr Laura Laslett, Epidemiologist in Tasmania, prayed for busy and stretched frontline workers, for those who are ‘constantly dealing with others on the worst day of their lives’, for wisdom in how to deal with each and every case appropriately.
After a time of reflection, individuals from around the country joined together to sing It is Well With my Soul.
Dr Jenny George, CEO of Converge International, gave the keynote address. She began with sharing her personal story, as a lover of mathematics who went on to study a doctorate in applied maths. She then taught students in applying data to make good commercial decisions at Melbourne Business School for nearly 16 years.
Of that time she said, ‘The problem of the day was how to train students to be ethical. The key theme that I emphasised during that time was good business is good business, by which I meant sensible, profitable commercial decisions will be morally right decisions. A reputation for treating everyone honestly, even your competitors, will ultimately lead to better business outcomes … I’d come to believe that if we seek the good of the people in our company, and our customers, and everyone else, then we will build a business that’s sustainable and profitable.’
Eventually though she made the leap out of business education into the commercial world, where she could put into practice her ideas working for Converge, a company with a vision of Australian workplaces full of people who are flourishing. She said of her previous role ‘We were trying to teach ethics as a method, we gave students rules, advice about what to do … But that only teaches a formula. It can’t make someone want to be good.’
‘You can’t hope that good decisions will come by giving someone a checklist that they run through before taking an action. People aren’t like that; decisions aren’t like that. Decisions come from the heart. What I’ve seen as I manage my company is that there is a virtuous circle at work; good businesses cause their people and their clients to flourish and flourishing human beings make for good businesses. I’m now convinced that flourishing human beings and ethical business people are actually one and the same thing. Working in mental health has shown me it’s not just ethical decisions but also good mental health that is built on a foundation of good character.’
Dr George shared the work of psychologist Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, from his book called Character Strengths and Virtues. ‘He links the traditional religious virtues, found across all the ancient religions and cultures of the world, and shows how they lay the foundations that good mental health is built on’. Dr George sees this as important because sometimes we think about this the wrong way, in understanding what it is that contributes to our own well-being and is good for us. Research has shown that the best way to love yourself and further your own well-being is actually to love and serve others.
One day Dr George was talking to a colleague with whom she’d been building a model of mental fitness, trying to explore all the little habits of life that help people stay mentally fit; things like a positive mindset, sleeping well, and volunteering your time, that are exercises for your mind. ‘I remarked to my colleague that many of these mental fitness exercises that we were discovering were things that people used to get from going to church. And I wondered whether our modern, not-so-church-going society had actually found good replacements for them. When thanking God before every meal has gone, have we lost the habit of gratitude? When looking forward to an eternal future no longer happens every Sunday, have we lost the habit of hope? When donating our money and our time sacrificially is no longer expected of us, have we lost the habit of giving? I think this intertwining of mental health and spiritual health might be why there is such good evidence to show that counselling that embraces the whole of a person, including their religious beliefs, leads to the best mental health outcomes for them.’
She demonstrated how factors, like caring for our bodies, that are part of our mental health are also part of our spiritual health. ‘As I think about the work my colleagues do, I’m reminded that Christians are asked to be continually transformed more and more into the likeness of God. We look after our minds and our bodies so we can do God-like things. And we’re told what God is like and what people who are like God are like. As the Bible says in Galatians 5:22, they’re people full of love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.’
‘And isn’t that what we all want? … Good mental health goes hand in hand with the virtues that Jesus teaches us to cultivate. Christians believe that’s the way we’re made to be; that the pattern for human flourishing is becoming like the God who created us in his likeness.’
The Honourable Scott Morrison, MP, Prime Minister of Australia, addressed the gathering, saying, ‘Over my time in Parliament I’ve been greatly encouraged by the prayers of people right across our country. You’ve written to me often and told me what you’ve been praying about, and I want to thank you for your faith and your dedication and your commitment in your prayer life. We must pray for our nation and we must pray for one another. All of us who are associated with public life are indeed very grateful because I know you are so consistent in raising the issues and affairs of our nation up in prayer.’
‘There was a verse that kept coming back to me during the course of this pandemic, and it’s from Isaiah 58:11-12. We have been through a lot but now we are rebuilding … So that verse is once again my prayer as we gather this morning. Thank you for your faithfulness. Thank you for your prayers.’
The Honourable Anthony Albanese MP, Leader of the Opposition, then gave his address, saying ‘We can take joy and comfort in what faith brings … I think of the parable of the Good Samaritan and the teachings we can take from this: don’t walk past those who are in need or suffering; that our care for others should be neither conditional nor transactional.’ He called on all those present to keep focus and to strive for the common good.
Amanda Stoker finished the morning by saying ‘thank you for being a part of this moment in which we celebrate and pray for this country, that it may be guided in God’s hand and that it may be strong and fair and safe well into the future.
The morning closed with the Lord’s Prayer, said by children around the country.