In 2010, Austen Ivereigh wrote in his book Faithful Citizens: A Practical Guide to Catholic Social Teaching and Community Organising, “the word assembly comes from the Greek word ekklesia from which we get the word church.
“It is a civic congregation where people of different faiths and none who live alongside each other express the hopes and frustrations they share for the city, commit to working in solidarity with each other for the common good and hold people with power to account.
“All are participants everyone takes a role; an assembly teaches in action the ideals of citizen organising and in doing so moves people to new hope, toward the world as it should be.”1
On Thursday 14 March, the Social Justice Office joined 2500 Sydneysiders at a packed Sydney Town Hall for the Sydney Town Hall Assembly.
The assembly, hosted by the St Vincent de Paul Society NSW, Sydney Alliance and the Everybody’s Home campaign, called for citizens to stand for a right to home for everyone in Sydney – from those sleeping rough on the streets to the average mum and dad working but finding it hard to pay their bills in Sydney.
Politicians from all sides of parliament were in attendance including Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Federal Labor Senator Doug Cameron, Federal Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi, NSW Labor Member of the Legislative Council Adam Searle, NSW Labor Member of the Legislative Council Penny Sharpe, NSW Liberal Member of the Legislative Council Don Harwin, NSW Christian Democratic Party Member of the Legislative Council Paul Green, NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong and NSW Independent MP Alex Greenwich.
The politicians were given a set time to discuss the issue, which was followed by community leaders asking questions about their party’s commitments to social and affordable housing leading up to the state election in March and the federal election in May.
The assembly heard personal stories from people seeking a home in Sydney, and heard from experts in the housing field, who shared the best practice to tackle the issue and the way forward.
Finally, participants heard that it can be expected that the assembly will be followed up, and they were able to make a commitment to taking this issue forward and addressing it in our local communities.
We found a program that was disciplined, respected our time and started and finished on time. We responded to commitments and responses respectfully and appropriately – being silent if silence was required, applauding if applause was required. It is not the culture at an assembly to interject. We dialogued and built respectful relationships. We were briefed before the assembly and had realistic expectations that this is a long-term issue requiring incremental changes. Remember, housing is a complex issue.
It was a privilege to have with us young representatives of the Diocese of Parramatta, including young people from Young Christian Workers and student leaders from St Oliver’s Primary School, Harris Park, standing together with many groups of the church. The assembly was a great opportunity to build connections with each other within the diocese.
The highlight of the evening was demonstrating our power as a collective people at the roll call time. Ian Epondulan, a member of the Lourdes Young Adults Group from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Seven Hills, shared that the Diocese of Parramatta was present, representing 330,000 Catholics who have a belief in Catholic social teaching and a right for all to a home. This was the time to stand up and raise our voice.
The phrase that stayed with me from the evening was from a politician who described his first assembly experience on that evening as a festival of democracy, dialogue and civil society.
We were together as the church in the city square. The assembly was just an amazing festival of democracy, dialogue and civil society. Each of us was grateful to those who shared their stories of seeking home with us.
We all have a right to home. As Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, wrote in The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Social Justice Statement for 2018–19 ‘A Place to Call Home: Making a home for everyone in our land’, “The Bishops emphasise that housing is a human right, and by the church teachings, housing, the Bishops, say is an essential entitlement for all people to meet their basic needs, flourish in community, and have their inherent human dignity affirmed and upheld by others.”
For more information, visit https://www.sydneyalliance.org.au/housing or https://www.vinnies.org.au/page/Our_Impact/homelessness-in-Australia/
- Austen Ivereigh, Faithful Citizens: A Practical Guide to Catholic Social Teaching and Community Organising, Darton Longman & Todd (2010)