Very, very, very strange things were afoot in Australia's capital city this weekend. Allow us to set the scene... A few weeks ago, we saw photos of a blood stained pillar on the top of a hill overlooking Parliament House and heard associated rumours of satanic rituals and animal sacrifices being performed by members of what is apparently a large Wiccan population there. It turns out that national Christian organisation, Catch the Fire Ministries, heard about it also and took this as further evidence to support their belief that Satan is at work in and around our policy-determining hub. In order to combat this evil, they organised a mass "prayer offensive" at the site with the triple-barreled intention of 1. reversing any spells cast by the witches, 2. hopefully changing politicians minds about things they disagree with such as abortion and gay people and 3. sending out good vibes to ensure a bushfire-victim free summer. Really, what on earth could go wrong?
This is Pastor Danny Nalliah. He's the self-proclaimed leader of the Catch the Fire Ministries. He led the three hour prayer session through his little megaphone and the 200 followers who turned up thought he was pretty great. For three hours he prayed, led sing-alongs and intermittently spoke in tongues. Hearing 200 people speak in tongues together sounds kind of amazing to be honest - something like a room full of hallucinating Indians. Danny used to be in a rock band before Jesus found him and set him on the right path. Pheeeww!
This is the blood stained alter that sparked all the hoo ha. Now, I haven't seen too many blood stained alters in my time but I'd bet my life on the fact that this wasn't blood. Besides, it had been raining all week in Canberra and even with my rudimentary understanding of chemistry and biology I'm pretty sure that blood would wash off. Anyhoo, semantics.
Here are the Christians, with an assortment of banners, lost in the moment.
Oh yeah, the atheists turned up to throw a spanner in the works. That's the leader of their party on the right.
A whole lot of gays and lesbians turned up, along with members of the Australian Sex Party, to voice their disapproval too. Over the day there was some healthy (and some not so healthy) debate and the verdict from the perspective of the Christians seemed to be that Jesus loved them but disagreed entirely with their choice of lifestyle. It was basically the impossible argument. The gay contingent responded to this with statement t-shirts and generally anti-social behaviour. They did seem to be having way more fun than than the Christians though and had a sausage sizzle going while they sang "I am, you are, we are Australian" really loudly. Later in the day this turned into Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" and people hooning in a circle in a couple of convertibles, waving rainbow flags out the roof and playing really loud dance music. I don't think they liked being ignored by the Christians.
Members of the atheist party with signs that they could really have tried harder with. They say, from left to right: "ANU League of Extra-ordinary Atheists", "There's Probably No God so Stop Worrying and Enjoy Life" and "Reality is Awesome". Catchy stuff.
This is Danny Nalliah's main wing man about to drink a thimble of red cordial which represents the blood of Christ. A few times throughout the day, Danny Nalliah would move locations with the intention of having all the Catch the Fire people follow. For some reason, each time this happened, no one followed their esteemed leader. It seemed like a relatively easy and logical thing — to follow the guy with the megaphone — to me but it just wasn't happening for some reason, which was pretty funny. Each time, Danny would frustratedly tell this guy to go and get them to follow. Wingman had a pretty rad Jesus t-shirt on. Here's the back of it.
By far the most under-represented group of the day were the witches. There were a smattering of people dressed in black crushed velvet who identified themselves as being into witchcraft and white magic but they all seemed to think that the notion of satanic sacrifices happening atop Mt Ainslie was ludicrous. Although I guess it's not necessarily the kind of thing one readily admits to. Anyway, this girls' friends had slept in and made a last minute decision not to turn up.
I thought this lady might have been with the Christians and accidentally mixed up the sign of Satan with a sign that means 'I love God'. Turns out she was in fact on Satan's side. I guess the purple Docs should have been a give away.
The climax of the day involved everyone getting really lost in the moment. There was a harp player, a guy on the bongos and another man on the guitar who played along as everyone sang or garbled in tongues (which actually sounded really cool — almost like an un-hip and unplugged Animal Collective) while a group of gay people stood in the middle of them chanting "Jesus loves Us" over and over. At five, the prayer session petered out and everyone headed home. Whether the day had any effect beyond making gays and Christians hate each other more than they already did will obviously be impossible to determine until bushfire season or the next election.