How your church can hold an Aboriginal Sunday service

Truth telling, laments and heartfelt prayers are part of the resources available to churches to hold Aboriginal Sunday services this weekend.

Conceived by Aboriginal Christian leader William Cooper in 1938 – who asked Australian Christians to set aside the Sunday before Australia Day – Aboriginal Sunday is a time when “your church or faith community will be acting in solidarity with Aboriginal peoples”, according to Common Grace.

A Christian social justice movement, Common Grace has created an Aboriginal Sunday Church Resource toolkit to help churches and faith communities to “listen to and be led by Aboriginal Christian leaders”. Last year, almost 200 churches across Australia used Common Grace’s materials for Aboriginal Sunday services; this year, more than 250 churches are likely to participate.

May we enrich each other as our journey’s come together, as we listen deeply with respect.

With video messages by Common Grace CEO Brooke Prentis and other Indigenous Christians leaders including Aunty Jean Phillips and Ray Minniecon, the toolkit also includes an order of service, prayers and “truth telling” items. Common Grace encourages congregations to print out “truth telling” statements about issues affecting Australia’s First Peoples, and to take them home “to share the truth they learn with others and to pray for the truth/injustice”.

The Aboriginal Sunday services will happen one day before Common Grace’s national prayer event called #ChangeTheHeart. This year, the event will be simulcast for the first time on ACCTV, as well as online and on radio.

Along with Common Grace, the Uniting Church in Australia also offers a special liturgy and worship materials to be used on the Sunday before Australia Day, which UCA calls “A Day of Mourning”.

“In the spirit of our walking together as First and Second Peoples, and as an expression of the Uniting Church’s commitment to justice and truth-telling, we have declared the Sunday before Australia Day as a Day of Mourning,” says the UCA’s Day of Mourning document.

A live-streamed service will be led on Sunday by Uniting Church in Australia President, Dr Deidre Palmer, and Pastor Mark Kickett, Interim Chair of Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC).

The Day of Mourning Order of Service includes laments and confessions, Indigenous language words, activities for children and families to be included with, and a time of silent reflection.

Suggestions for preaching the word in Uniting churches this Sunday include discussing aspects of the UCA’s covenant between First and Second Nations Peoples, and exploring biblical themes such as reparation (Luke 19:1-10) and jubilee, “the year of the Lord’s favour” (Leviticus 25, Isaiah 61:7-9 Luke 4:16-21).

This prayer by Lea Maslen, as part of Common Grace’s materials, sets the scene for what to expect during Aboriginal Sunday services:

Oh Pulse of Life, Oh Heartbeat of all Creation;

As we gather together this day around this large continent;

May we enrich each other as our journey’s come together,

As we listen deeply with respect;

May we take what we glean and enrich the communities we return to,

As we recognise the injustices (past and present);

May we offer our voices and to question their root causes,

As we become aware of the inequalities that exist;

May we actively respond to the needs that are hurting our fellow traveller,

As we come to appreciate the cultural and spiritual wisdom among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,

May we marvel at You more and more,

As we consider the value of the ground under our feet and the fruits that it produces,

May we take steps to nourish and nurture the earth, air and waters,

As we strengthen our resolve to support Your work through Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sisters and Brothers;

May we see the blessings of the kingdom unfold across this entire continent

… And rejoice together at the beauty found there.