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Take courage and walk closely with First Peoples

The call from Christian leaders this Reconciliation Week

Christians have been urged to be more courageous and walk more closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders at the beginning of Reconciliation Week.

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The theme for this year’s Reconciliation Week (May 27 – June 3) is “Grounded in Truth – Walk Together with Courage”.

In a joint message, the president of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, Garry Dronfield, and president of the Uniting Church in Australia, Deidre Palmer, urged Uniting Church members to “work more closely with First Peoples.”

“The first step for many people, still, is to summon the courage to talk with us and to walk together.” – Garry Dronfield

A Bundjalung descendant, Dronfield said relationships were key to successful reconciliation between First and Second Peoples.

“Getting around the campfire together and yarning up – that’s the best way to understand each other’s perspectives,” he said.

“Whatever the conversation – about covenanting, sovereignty or anything else – it all comes down to relationships. The first step for many people, still, is to summon the courage to talk with us and to walk together.”

Dronfield’s message was echoed on Sunday by respected Aboriginal Christian leader Aunty Jean Phillips, who took part in a service at St Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral in Sydney to commemorate Sorry Day as well as the centenary of the Bush Church Aid Society.

Sorry Day marks the anniversary of the tabling in 1998 of the Bringing them Home report by The National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families (the “Stolen Generations”), which told traumatic stories of the forcible removal of thousands of Indigenous children from their families from 1910 until 1970.

Christians need to be connected with a “whole lot of Aboriginal people.”

During the service, Aunty Jean prayed a prayer for reconciliation written by Australia’s first Indigenous Bishop, Arthur Malcolm, and his wife Colleen.

Aunty Jean Phillips prays a prayer of reconciliation at St Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral for National Sorry Day. sydneyanglicans.net

However, after the service she told Eternity that reconciliation – bringing Christians together as one – would never happen until Aboriginal Christians were treated equally.

Aunty Jean said Christians need to be connected with a “whole lot of Aboriginal people.”

Neville Naden, the inaugural Indigenous Ministry Officer for Bush Church Aid Society, preached at all three services at St Andrew’s yesterday – possibly the first time an Indigenous minister had preached at the Cathedral.

“A lot of things … have been done in the name of the church that have been ungodly … But the wonderful thing that the church has done is to bring the gospel to these lands.”

Echoing the theme of “Grounded in Truth – Walk Together with Courage”, Uncle Neville prayed: “Give us the courage to accept the realities of our history so that we may build a better future for our nation.”

One of those sobering realities, he pointed out, was that the forced removal of Aboriginal children was done with the intention of breeding out the race.

“In New South Wales alone, it is suggested that some six and a half thousand children were put into care with the hope of breeding out the race,” he said.

“This government policy totally devastated both families and Aboriginal communities. So, Sorry Day is important as most Aboriginal families were touched in some way by some of these policies.

In his sermon, Uncle Neville said: “There have been a lot of things that have been done in the name of the church that have been ungodly. This goes without saying, but we need to take it on and learn to deal with such things.

“But the wonderful thing that the church has done is to bring the gospel to these lands. This gospel brings life where there is no life. Those on the fringes of society are brought into the inner circle of God’s family.”

Reconciliation Week runs from May 27 to June 3, spanning the anniversaries of the 1967 referendum and the High Court Mabo decision in 1993.

In the first of a series of messages for the week, Common Grace released a “Redfern Prayer” by Uncle Ray Minniecon, an Aboriginal pastor from Sydney:

God of our Dreaming. Father of all our Aboriginal nations in Australia. You have lived among us since time immemorial. We have always known You. You gave this land to our Aboriginal nations. You have not dispossessed us nor destroyed us.

People from other lands, who do not understand our unique culture, our unique lifestyle and our unique heritage have come and destroyed much of our way of life. Many of these people from other lands now want to understand and reconcile with us.

But for many of us Aboriginal people, we find this reconciliation business a little difficult.

Too many of our children are still in jails.
Too many of our children are still living in sub-standard housing.
Too many of our mothers are living on the streets or in refuges.
Too many of our children are still uneducated.
Too many of our children have no land and no community to go back to.
Too many of our children have not got good opportunities for good employment.
Too many of our children are living in extremely unhealthy environments.
Too many of our children are living among violence and abuse.
Too many of our children are dying to drugs and other soul-destroying substances.

God our Dreaming and Creator of our people, we sometimes feel overwhelmed by these things. Many of us feel like we are refugees in our own land.

Today we are coming together again on one of our battlegrounds to cry out to You for mercy and justice for our children, for our families and for our land.

We pray that more resources will be given to our local community organisations to help us grow healthy and strong.

We pray that the peoples from other lands will be given a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone so that they can understand us and support us properly.

We pray that your Spirit will help and encourage us to grow good strong Aboriginal leaders.

Father we want to grow strong and healthy again in our own land. We want to take our rightful place in our land and make our contribution to the re-building of our families, our communities and our nation.

Please hear our cries for justice. We ask these mercies in the name of Your Son.

Amen.

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