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Q&A with Celia Kemp

July 14, 2020

Earlier this year, Reconciliation Coordinator, Celia Kemp announced her decision to stand down from her role with ABM in order to focus on writing and local projects in Alice Springs. ABM gives thanks for Celia and her many gifts. We’ll continue to keep you updated on Celia’s latest writing project. In the meantime, we caught up with Celia to talk about Reconciliation and what each of us can do.


What gave you the most joy in your five years at ABM?

The people.  The church is facing a difficult time but there are so many amazing people in ABM and scattered across Australia and the world (to me like brightly burning fires!) that I got to meet or work with or become friends with.


What have you learned as Reconciliation Coordinator?

That with all the good will and intention in the world, whitefella systems tend to take over and whitefella money tends to flow back to whitefellas.  Unequal power relations wield havoc everywhere. Many Anglicans feel disempowered themselves so they can be slow to recognise the power they are exercising and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Anglicans wear this, and are silenced by it, all the time.

It is crucial to have structures run by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with the power and freedom to operate in their own way, to make their own decisions and with enough income to do real work, to ward off the endless and unpredictable changes in whitefella policies/views that scuttle slow, long term good work.

NATSIAC (National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Anglican Council), the National Aborignal Bishop, theological colleges such as Wontulp-Bi-Buya and our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander priests, theologians and leaders are treasures of the Church.

They should be listened to and they also need the wider church’s support, particularly financially.

This is not benevolent; it is funding the living edge of the church and it is for the life of the whole church.


What advice would you give to non-Indigenous Australians who want to do more about Reconciliation?

National Aboriginal Bishop, Chris McLeod has just given a powerful interview where he answers this question. You can watch it here

Some of the things which have helped me are:

Pray, seek out a wide variety of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians’ views, be prepared to be wrong (repeatedly) and feel awkward (repeatedly), commit to a small local thing and really commit over the long haul, listen more than you speak, give money without control, support what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are asking for not what you think they need/want, stay with the discomfort of new/different theologies/ideas to see if the spirit is speaking through them, step aside from the theological divides preoccupying the wider church and into the challenging exciting call that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are making to the church, loving people is loving people (costly but full of joy) no matter the cultural divide. And finally, connect deeply to local place – which starts by spending a lot of time there praying, watching, walking, listening, and follow that connection as it leads to the people who lived and loved and knew all the names of that place for thousands of years before you.

I believe the Statement from the Heart made at Uluru is the fire in the desert for our time and needs ongoing grass-roots support.

The Songs from a Strange Land and Into the Desert apps/books and A Voice in the Wilderness point to many quotes/books/speeches by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians that have been particularly helpful and alive to me so they may be of some use.


What is next for you?

I felt called to leave ABM (with great sadness) to focus on writing and the local community in Alice Springs.

This includes working towards the spirit of Campfire in the Heart, the Christian community I live in, continuing on in some form into the next generation.

I am greatly limited by a woeful back and so I also spend a lot of time on Scripture, prayer, reading and thinking.

Perhaps not surprisingly a lot of the theological writing that is particularly alive for me comes from people confined to small places – prison writings especially – and I am thinking about the largeness of soul that can come from constricted options.

I am trying to improve my Hebrew, going deep into the book of Leviticus, and finishing up some writing about the split in the Anglican church in Australia.

I am wondering about what holiness means in such a chaotic and uncertain world and in particular what needs to be done now for the sake of church for future generations, and this quote is lively for me at this time:


The ultimately responsible question is not how I extricate myself heroically from a situation but how a coming generation is to go on living. Only from such a historically responsible question will fruitful solutions arise, however humiliating they may be for the moment. In short, it is much easier to see a situation through on the basis of principle than in concrete responsibility.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Letters and Papers from Prison


I am interested in writing about how the bible opens up the role of women and the importance of the created world. 

I am taken by Scripture’s metaphorical/image-based ways of revealing truth and the similarities (or otherwise) to what David Mowaljarlai called ‘pattern-thinking’.

However it would have to be said that right now there is a lot of bumbling into the unknown in my world.

 And yet I am hoping that:


“As if the best theology were the noise of someone falling over things in the dark”


Rowan Williams


“I see the darkness still – how could I not? But it has lost its fascination.  I know it has been pierced.”


Erik Varden

The Shattering of Loneliness


>> Celia has also released a collection of songs in collaboration with John Coleman. Stones that Sing. You can find them at