An increasing number of churches across Australia are acknowledging their ministries are built on stolen land.
St Jude’s Anglican Church in Carlton, Melbourne held a thanksgiving service for the Wurundjeri people at the weekend, unveiling a plaque acknowledging the original custodians of the block on Lygon Street.
Present at the service were Auntie Diane Kerr, a Wurundjeri elder, along with other Indigenous leaders including Aunty Jean from Queensland who was in Melbourne for the Surrender Conference at the weekend. The Federal Member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt and the Melbourne Anglican Archbishop, Dr Philip Freier were also present.
St Jude’s Vicar, Richard Condie said it had taken far too long for the church to recognise the theft which had taken place nearly 150 years ago, when the Government granted the land in Carlton to the Anglican church.
“As God’s people, we are custodians of a message. A message about Jesus of Nazareth, who himself was born in an occupied land and knew the pain and injustice of this.”
In Sydney, Village Church in Annandale includes a PowerPoint slide acknowledging original owners at the start of each service as a gesture of apology.
“We acknowledge that the land on which we meet at Village Church was traditionally in the custodianship of the Gadigal Clan of the Eora people,” the slide reads.
Senior Minister at Village Church, Dominic Steele has added a Bible verse to the slide to “help people see it is God behind all of this”. He’s chosen Acts 17:26: “From one man he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined times and the boundaries of where they live.”
Dr Peter Adam, former Vicar of St Jude’s who spoke at the thanksgiving service, said Australian Christians needed to acknowledge what took place is theft – a clear breach of the eighth commandment.
“We have said sorry for the stolen generation, and quite right too. We have not yet said sorry for stolen land.”
“We were called to love our neighbour, and we stole instead.”
Dr Adam says Australian Christians should not only say sorry for stealing land from Indigenous Australians, but ought to petition the Government to amend the Constitution so it acknowledges the legitimacy of the prior indigenous ownership of the land as well.
Also on the weekend, two members of the stolen generation shared their stories at the Surrender Conference, held in Melbourne’s east. A weekend focused on promoting ministry to the margins, Surrender famously hosts an Indigenous night, entirely run by Indigenous Christians from across Australia.
During a session at the conference, Uncle Bill Simons and Uncle Manuel Ebsworth told of forever being scarred by the memory of being torn from their mothers and brought to Kinchela Boys Home in Kempsey.
The boys were told their mothers hated them and were beaten, deprived and used as child labour under New South Wales Government assimilation policies.
Uncle Manuel says he’s never really recovered from the abuse he received as a child.
“I told the woman I married I loved her, but I think I married her under false pretences because I didn’t know what love is and I still don’t know what love is about, because I’ve never had it. The abuse we suffered never gave us the privilege of loving or being loved by anybody.”
While Uncle Manuel says he can’t believe in God, Uncle Bill Simon went onto become a pastor ministering to Aboriginal people on the Block in Redfern, Sydney, but not before he’d struggled through drug and alcohol addiction and been to jail. He says with faith, he can forgive the people who oppressed him.
“God has healed me and I’ve forgiven what they’ve done to me and what they continue to do. I’ve put all that under the blood of Jesus and laid it all at the foot of the cross. So I can speak freely about it.”
If there’s one thing Uncle Bill wants Australian Christians to do, it’s pray for unity.
“That’s the main thing. If all the churches can get together, they should pray for unity for the church, because nothing’s going to happen without unity.”More