FIRIS gets mail from a concerned parent who is not in the “inner-urban” zone where ACCESS Ministries is based … this parent is wise enough to know when the fix is in. FIRIS would like to offer the idea that “secular” education is the foundation – and lifeblood of this nation. ACCESS is clearly hostile to the core values of Australian society – shame on you ACCESS for thinking you could run over parents like this!!
During the past week I’ve been following media reports and FIRIS updates with great interest. The parents participating in the VCAT hearing should be commended for their commitment and courage. My children attend a state school in Melbourne’s leafy outer east… Evonne Paddison may be shocked to know there is a “small, secularist group” alive and kicking here too, even though we are not “inner-urban”. Both of my children have opted out of CRE classes run at the school. I continue to feel incredulous that children at a secular school should have to opt OUT of religious education, and hope that eventually this system will change. Our school’s provider is Access Ministries, and during the past week I have been appalled by their attempts to gain further influence in our secular school, this time via the government’s National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program (NSCSWP).
On Wednesday 29th Feb, parents were invited to attend a forum at which Ainsley Carr, a representative from ACCESS Ministries, was present to answer our questions about the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program. She was, of course, also there to promote ACCESS Ministries as ‘the best man for the job’. The school Principal was also present at the forum. Myself and other parents attending were surprised to learn that the closing date for NSCSWP grant applications was Friday 2nd March at 8pm, giving our school little more than 48 hours to finalise an application and decide on an appropriate provider/recipient who could best meet the needs of our school community.
Given that ACCESS Ministries was the only provider attending the forum, some parents expressed concerns about the possibility that, were we to nominate ACCESS Ministries as the funding recipient, proselytising would occur in our school. Ms Carr assured us that would not happen, and said proselytising and evangelism are prohibited under the program guidelines. She said that while ACCESS Ministries Chaplains were drawn to chaplaincy roles because of their Christian faith and values, their intention was not to push their personal religious beliefs onto other people, but to offer a variety of support services that would improve student wellbeing and meet the diverse range of needs within the school community.
When asked about other possible providers for the role, Ms Carr informed us that all the providers on the list were Christian organisations. She finished her presentation by thanking us for asking such “wonderful questions”, stated that it was wonderful for her to have the opportunity to answer “such interesting questions” and even claimed that, in her previous experiences of liaising with other schools, she had never been presented with these sorts of questions before. One parent later commented to me that she found it hard not to vomit in response to Ms Carr’s saccharine manner and patronizing comments.
After Ms Carr had left the forum, myself and other parents approached the Principal to express our concerns at the possibility of choosing ACCESS Ministries as a provider for a wellbeing program at our secular school. Our concerns were heightened when we went home and did our own research… a quick check of the current Provider list on the DEEWR website reveals that there are at least 4 providers who are secular. But wait, there’s more… Ms Carr had handed us brochures at the start of her presentation, which we didn’t have a chance to read until we went home. The brochures read, “Victoria’s young people need to know God cares for them no matter who they are or what they have done… Young Victorians need Christian school chaplains from ACCESS Ministries. Every day of the school year, ACCESS Ministries chaplains are sharing God’s love with young Victorians.” Towards the end of the publication there is a photo of the (now infamous) Evonne Paddison, together with a list of her credentials, and a description of her demeanor – “There’s a passion for life at work here… It’s in the way she’s as comfortable lobbying for chaplaincy at Parliament as she is using ‘Jerry the Puppet’ to enthrall a tiny Prep student.” The brochure also includes ACCESS Ministries ‘vision’ for the future. It states, “Our vision is to transform a nation… it means steering ACCESS Ministries through a phase of intense growth… and ultimately it means reaching every school student in Victoria. We know just the right person for the job.”
All I can say to that is, Holy S*#%. I wish ACCESS Ministries were on trial, and I hope one day they (and Jerry the Puppet) will be barred from spreadin’ the love at state schools.
As for our particular school, fortunately, our Principal appears to be listening to our concerns and has acknowledged that further parental consultation is warranted.