Church called on to pray for Indigenous Australia this Australia Day

Painting by Safina Stewart

Painting by Safina Stewart

Aboriginal Christian leaders are encouraging churches to pray for Indigenous Australia this Sunday, the 26th of January.

As many church gatherings fall on Australia Day this year, there will be a particular focus at some meetings on both the blessings of modern day Australia, as well as the grief stemming from the mistreatment of Aboriginal people in the past.

In Queensland, a prayer event is being held in the lead up to Australia Day by Indigenous Christian elders and leaders of the church, which is expected to be attended by the Greens candidate for Griffith (Kevin Rudd’s former seat) and a representative of the Australian Christian Lobby as well as moderators of the Uniting Church.

The event which will take place on Friday night is being organised by Aunty Jean Phillips. Brooke Prentis is helping Aunty Jean with the programme, and says they’re billing it as an opportunity to “Recognise, reflect, pray and connect”.

“It’s an opportunity to think about the issues facing Aboriginal people, but also to put prayer over that, recognising that the 26th of January fractures our community.”

Held at 7PM at West End Uniting Church in Brisbane, the night will feature an Aboriginal welcome, prayer, a reading from Psalm 23, singing and a short reflection on the history of January 26th by Brooke.

“I’ll be presenting on the history, facts like 1938 was the first year on public record that it was called a Day of Mourning, and Survival Day I think came in in the 60s and then Invasion Day. But the 26th of January was originally just celebrated in NSW because the first fleet arrived in NSW.”

Brooke hopes that as they hold the event, awareness will build among the Indigenous and non-Indigenous community.

She says the fact Australia Day falls on a Sunday this year is a great opportunity for churches to pray for Indigenous Australians, and to put aside the politics the day can bring.

“I think often the church is too scared to do anything because they think they’re getting political, but it’s actually not about politics, it’s about caring for people—just realising there is a divide in our community and praying for it. If we can’t pray for healing of relationships in our community, no matter how you put it, then we’ve got a problem.”

Down in Melbourne, Tony Riches who heads up the Melbourne Indigenous Fellowship will be speaking at his church in Footscray about the complexity of Australia Day. He says there should be opportunity to both celebrate and to grieve for those who have lost out through the colonisation of Australia.

“I don’t think there’s anything in Scripture that says a nation shouldn’t celebrate their identity and have a day. You wouldn’t expect July 4th in America, for example, to be stopped because of what they’ve done to the Indian people there.

“But on the other side to that, there is still a lot of hurt. And for a lot of Indigenous people, this Day reminds them of the hurt and the loss. And they feel that they haven’t been heard and their losses haven’t been resolved.

“But as Christians we are to stand with the poor, to grieve with those who grieve, rejoice with those who rejoice, so I think we’ve got to take both those things in mind. Everything we need to do needs to be driven by love and everything we say should be seasoned with grace.”

Also in Melbourne, Christian Indigenous artist Safina Stewart is inviting everyone along to Belgrave Survival Day on Sunday in Borthwick Park, where Archie Roach will be performing alongside a host of other Indigenous Australians.

And on Saturday 25th January at the House of Prayer in Buderim, Queensland, from 7pm there will be a prayer and worship night organised by Brigitte Reich.

Feature image, ‘Travelling the Ancient Land’, by Safina Stewart.