Hearts being changed as Change The Heart celebrates 10th anniversary
The annual Change The Heart event held on January 25, the eve of Australia Day, really has changed hearts across the nation, according to Aboriginal Christian leader Brooke Prentis, CEO of Common Grace.
To illustrate how hearts have been softened, Prentis tells the story of a man who came up to her after the service in Canberra in 2019.
“He was crying and declared himself a racist and said he had come to disrupt the proceedings, but he said ‘my heart has been changed’. And that’s not the only story like that. I have many stories of changing hearts,” she said.
“He said ‘it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever been a part of’.” – Brooke Prentis
There were actually two non-Indigenous white men who spoke to Prentis after the 2019 Canberra service.
“This other man, he said, ‘Brooke, I am a Christian.’ I said, ‘Oh, what brought you along tonight?’ And he’s like, ‘I just saw it on Facebook. I have no connection to Common Grace, have never met an Aboriginal person. It just popped up onto my phone an hour ago, and I came along.’ Then he went on to say that his wife wasn’t happy with him coming, that he thinks she is racist. And so how does he go and impact his community and his church? None of them would be happy that he came along, but he said ‘it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever been a part of’.”
Common Grace is the Christian justice movement that has partnered with senior Aboriginal Christian leader Aunty Jean Philips in #ChangeTheHeart services across Australia for the past 10 years.
This year is the second year that #ChangeTheHeart is being broadcast on television through ACCTV, online through Common Grace and ACCTV, and on radio at 7.30pm AEDT (and relevant local times across Australia).
Before the pandemic, the movement was a series of state-based in-person gatherings, with the biggest service held in 2020 at St Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral in Sydney.
“When I would go around in person at every service, people would come up to me and say how they had been moved – they’d never heard of these things they wanted to know more,” says Prentis.
To continue the journey, there will also be a digital seminar with Aunty Jean Phillips after the #ChangeTheHeart service and anyone who signs up through https://www.commongrace.org.au/hearthecall will be sent an order of service and some discussion questions.
This year’s broadcast will hear from Aunty Jean Phillips, who has served in Christian ministry across Australia for over 60 years, as she reflects on the last 10 years and how this prayer service has grown to become an important moment for our nation in the leadup to January 26.
Prentis said #ChangeTheHeart was a unique opportunity for the nation to come together at one moment and be led by Aboriginal Christian leaders. But rather than in-person gatherings, the call to prayer is now broadcast nationally on the evening before Australia Day.
“Everyone in unison from the comfort of your own lounge rooms, or if you’re able to gather in community, it just brings a whole other level of spiritual engagement. Here we are tuning into Jesus at the same time in these lands now called Australia and listening to the voices that God has raised up in our Aboriginal Christian life.”
This year, the service will include the voices of some of those who were there at the first service, while Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Kanishka Raffel will reflect on the importance of the 2020 service in Sydney, which was the largest in-person gathering in the history of the year.
“Here we are tuning into Jesus at the same time in these lands now called Australia and listening to the voices that God has raised up in our Aboriginal Christian life.” – Brooke Prentis
Prentis commented that while the hour-long service mainly focused on Aboriginal Christian voices, it has widespread support from denominational leaders, including Melinda Cousins, Director of Ministries for the Baptist Church of South Australia, Rev Andrew Gunton, Moderator of the Uniting Church in Queensland, and Tania Riches, from Hillsong Church.
Last year, an estimated 20,000 people tuned in to this national event with more than 90 places across the nation hosting a COVID safe screening of Change The Heart and gather with their local communities. This year, it is hoped that even more people will take part.
In the meantime, almost 500 churches across Australia have signed up for a toolkit of Bible readings, prayer, sermon and worship resources for Aboriginal Sunday this coming Sunday, January 23.
“That’s the most engagement that we’ve had. We’ve had over 500 churches sign up for our National Reconciliation Week church resources for the last two years, but Aboriginal Sunday has now reached that capacity as well, which is just wonderful to see,” Prentis said.
“This is a powerful moment for your church to go deeper in listening to the call of Aboriginal injustice and for you to learn, engage, pray, and take action as a community.”
Also this coming Sunday, all Uniting Church in Australia congregations are invited to hold worship services to reflect upon and lament the effect of the invasion and colonisation of this nation upon First Peoples.
The observance of a Day of Mourning was endorsed by the 15th Assembly arising from a request of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC). In an introduction to the 2022 worship resource, UAICC Interim National Chairperson Rev Mark Kickett and UCA President Rev Sharon Hollis encouraged communities to participate.
“In marking a day of mourning, we hear the call of Jesus to love one another. We live into our covenant relationship to stand together with, and listen to the wisdom of First Nations people in their struggle for justice,” they said.