As a young man Kamal Weerakoon might have wondered if he would be overshadowed by his mother, well-known Christian sexologist, Patricia.
But last night his abilities were on show as he became the leader – “moderator” – of the NSW Presbyterians. He set a couple of records too – as a relatively young person to hold the role and probably the first non-Anglo.
Kamal’s appointment makes it clear that diversity is present in one of Australia’s most conservative churches. Once a Scottish enclave, the Presbyterians are growing in some of Australia’s newer communities. And Kamal is typical of younger, keen ministers attracted to the Presbyterian emphasis on conservative reformed theology. Both these effects have been building for some time; Weerakoon simply reflects a breakthrough moment.
“Ministry is the act of lifting up Christ and showing him to the world, but in the 21st century that will cost us.” – Kamal Weerakoon
The message from Weerakoon was confidence in the gospel despite tough times for the churches.
“Next to Epping Presbyterians’ Hall, literally right next door, is a shop, with the name ‘Oh My Dog.’ It is a pet shop. The name breaks the third commandment. But, actually, I don’t think the owners are trying to mock Christianity. It’s just clever marketing – that’s post-Christianity,” he said.
“It is easy for us to feel abandoned. You probably feel sliced up by people who mock you every day. I give you assembled elders permission to grieve.
“But we can’t remain there. Jesus’ death and resurrection show that his kingdom is totally good. He established his kingdom by shedding his own blood. The kingdoms of this world build themselves up by exploiting others. Jesus is no bloodsucker or an exploiter but a liberator.
“Ministry is the act of lifting up Christ and showing him to the world, but in the 21st century that will cost us.”
Weerakoon, as an overseas born leader, embodies new life within his Christian tribe. Non-Anglo churches are the ones that are growing.
“In Sydney city, many of the strongest churches are those that focus on relatively new immigrants, particularly people of Chinese and Korean background. This might be because secularisation hasn’t made as deep inroads into those communities as it has among Anglo-Saxon Aussies. A more traditional, family-oriented, ‘religious’ background means there are less barriers to attending church and believing in God.”
“Some of our city churches need to be humble enough to accept ministers and young ministry trainees who have grown up in country churches.” – Kamal Weerakoon
The same is true for Baptists: non-Anglo or multi-ethnic churches are the ones that are growing, said Gerald Vandekolk, from the Baptist Association of NSW & ACT – one of the leaders bringing greetings from other Christian church networks.
Despite possibly embedding change, Weerakoon appreciates some of the strengths of the group he now leads.
“Many of the strongest Presbyterian churches are in country New South Wales. That’s because they tend to have a good history of being led by people who were faithful to the Bible and held to classical Christian teachings. I think some of our city churches need to be humble enough to accept ministers and young ministry trainees who have grown up in country churches. Well, there’s precedent for that. Jesus was a country lad.”