I am honoured to have been voted in as the new Chair of the REC. I am both excited by and in awe of the prospect of serving this prestigious organization. I have had links with the REC since 1985, so this is the culmination of a long association which has included nearly nine years as a Board member and nearly six as Treasurer.
When I received the news of my election I was in Sydney, working with the Church schools in Australia. This visit has underlined for me the importance of the REC; there is no equivalent organization in Australia. Indeed there is little RE as we in the UK would understand it, although the new civics curriculum may include some. The current arrangements allow for Special RE (SRE) in schools, which is provided by faith communities for parents who want their children to opt in. Whilst I was in Sydney a fiercely-fought battle erupted about SRE, which was conducted mainly thought the pages of the popular press. There was no mechanism for the opposing camps to meet and talk through the issues. They could really have done with an REC. Certainly Australians that I told about REC expressed great surprise, indeed incredulity, that such an organization could function without dissolving into a proverbial bloodbath.
Whilst in Australia, I also had the privilege of a week’s holiday in the so-called Red Centre. I visited Uluru (previously known as Ayers Rock) and Alice Springs. Much of this territory was snatched from the Aboriginal people during the colonization of the country. The story of the decimation of their communities and of the removal of their children (the stolen generation) in the name of the progress of economic rationalism is a disgrace that scars the Australian conscience. It is only in recent years that these wrongs are being addressed and land returned to its original owners. The whirlwind wreaked upon the aboriginal way of life by European settlement is still however evident in the deprivation the aboriginal people experience.
My visit to Uluru was particularly poignant for me as I contemplated my future role in the REC. It is possible to climb the Rock, although the Aboriginal people ask you not to out of respect for the fact that it is a sacred site for them. However, they cannot stop you as one of the conditions made by the white government on returning Uluru to those it had originally been taken from was that the climb stayed open to keep the tourists coming. And keep coming they do, and many make the climb. After all, they have paid out for their trip so what right have a few people to stop them on the basis of a few strange stories about creation? Watching the tourists ignore the signs made me realise that there is a lot of work still to do in educating people as to the importance of respect for those whose beliefs sound like mumbo-jumbo to us.