The day I met the Prime Minister

It was a beautiful spring day in Canberra.

The ministerial courtyard of Parliament House was filled with more than 50 faith representatives – Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and Baha’i. We were there to launch the 2015 National Day of Unity. The attendance was a clear indication of the importance Australian people of faith place on unity at this time, in the wake of the tragic events at Parramatta.

As usual when people of faith gather we were enjoying each other’s company, taking the opportunity to renew acquaintances and make new friends across our diversity.

As we were sharing our stories, the Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull walked into the courtyard and headed toward us.

Before he could even get to us, the Prime Minister was surrounded by a huge pack of media people with cameras and microphones. Cameras flashed all round as he made his way towards us faith leaders.

I now have a full understanding of the expression “media scrum”.

I was standing six or seven metres away from Mr Turnbull, when he began walking towards me. I stepped up and greeted him, ‘Prime Minister, my name is Apwee Ting. I am representing the Uniting Church in Australia…”

He graciously thanked me for being there on behalf of the Church to show our support for unity.

It was good to be able to express in a few brief words why the Uniting Church supports the National Day of Unity.

Jesus calls us to love our neighbour, regardless of what faith they follow, what language they speak and what culture they belong to.

As people of faith, we know God delights in our diversity and also seeks unity in the human family.

At times like this we must work even harder to reject prejudice and hatred where arises and be ambassadors for understanding and friendship. We, like others in our community seek a new possibility to begin a national conversation that speaks of an inclusive and united Australia.

In the Uniting Church we talk about ‘making space for grace’ – moving beyond the things that divide people, whether that’s gender, culture, ritual, tradition, socioeconomic status or language, to embrace what is different about each other and the ways we can learn from each other.

From the crowd assembled in the courtyard at Parliament House, I was reassured to see so many other people across the community who are dedicated to building an inclusive society.

Mr Turnbull said it when he addressed everyone – and it’s true. Australia is a great multicultural nation.

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