The church of the First Fleet chaplain holds January 26 service of lament and thanksgiving

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following story contains images and voices of deceased persons.

The oldest Anglican church in Australia – St Philip’s in The Rocks, Sydney (now part of a group of churches called Church Hill) – is holding a “lament and thanksgiving” service today to mark January 26.

The original St Philip’s Church was built on the order of chaplain Reverend Richard Johnson, who arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788.

John Dickson, an Anglican minister, author and historian, has partnered with St Philip’s this year and is running the service.

In his social media invitation to join the service earlier this month, Dickson wrote:

Suitable for believers and doubters alike, the service is neither a protest against Australia nor an attempt to whitewash reality. It is what it says on the label: a brief hour simultaneously to lament and give thanks.

“If you are proud of our nation’s achievements but find it difficult to ‘let us rejoice’ on Australia Day without first pondering and praying for our country’s First Peoples, please join me on 26 January for ‘A Service of Lament and Thanksgiving’ … My friends and I will lead us through some important historical readings, hymns, confession, Scripture, reflection, and prayers. Suitable for believers and doubters alike, the service is neither a protest against Australia nor an attempt to whitewash reality. It is what it says on the label: a brief hour simultaneously to lament and give thanks. If that’s where your head is at on 26 January, I hope to see you there.”

Eternity was curious about the contents of such a service. With permission, we have published the full service outline below.

Dickson told Eternity that while there will be some comments and thoughts weaved through the service, he has found that in the past the readings have often spoken for themselves. He said that including the Parliamentary apology reading (from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008) was “not because we are trying to repeat anything like an apology, but to remind us to live up to the sentiment in that apology.”

“That reading is followed by a formal confession – the sort of thing that appears in every Anglican morning prayer service – so that people have an opportunity to confess to the Lord of Mercy their own measure of coldheartedness toward the needy, especially Indigenous peoples*.”

Acknowledgement of Country

As we gather together in the presence of God, Church Hill acknowledges the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet. In his wisdom and love, our heavenly Father gave this estate to the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. Upon this land they met for generations until the coming of British settlers. As we continue to learn to live together on these ancestral lands, we acknowledge and pay our respects to their elders, past and present, and pray that God will unite us all in a knowledge of his Son, in whom all things were created, in heaven and on earth, whether visible or invisible — for all things have been created through him and for him.


Great is Thy Faithfulness, T.O. Chisholm (1923)


A Psalm of Lament

Psalm 6:1-9

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. According to sheminith. A psalm of David.

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.

Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.

My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?

Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.

Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave?

I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.

My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.

Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping.

The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.


First contact—from the diary of First Fleet officer Watkin Tench, 1788.

We found the natives tolerably numerous as we advanced up the river, and even at the harbour’s mouth we had reason to conclude the country more populous than Mr. Cook thought it. For on the Supply’s arrival in the Bay on the 18th of the month, they were assembled on the beach of the south shore, to the number of not less than forty persons, shouting and making many uncouth signs and gestures. Owing to the lateness of our arrival, it was not my good fortune to go on shore until three days after this had happened, when I went with a party to the south side of the harbour, and had scarcely landed five minutes, when we were met by a dozen Indians, naked as at the moment of their birth, walking along the beach. Eager to come to a conference, and yet afraid of giving offence, we advanced with caution towards them. Nor would they, at first, approach nearer to us than the distance of some paces. Both parties were armed; yet an attack seemed as unlikely on their part, as we knew it to be on our own.

I had at this time a little boy, of not more than seven years of age, in my hand. The child seemed to attract their attention very much, for they frequently pointed to him and spoke to each other; and as he was not frightened, I advanced with him towards them, at the same time baring his bosom and, showing the whiteness of the skin. On the clothes being removed, they gave a loud exclamation, and one of the party, an old man, with a long beard, hideously ugly, came close to us. I bade my little charge not to be afraid, and introduced him to the acquaintance of this uncouth personage. The Indian, with great gentleness, laid his hand on the child’s hat, and afterwards felt his clothes, muttering to himself all the while. I found it necessary, however, by this time to send away the child, as such a close connection rather alarmed him.

Several more now came up, to whom we gave various presents, but our toys seemed not to be regarded as very valuable; nor would they for a long time make any returns to them, though before we parted a large club, with a head almost sufficient to fell an ox, was obtained in exchange for a looking-glass.

These people seemed at a loss to know (probably from our want of beards) of what sex we were, which having understood, they burst into the most immoderate fits of laughter, talking to each other at the same time with such rapidity and vociferation as I had never before heard. After nearly an hour’s conversation by signs and gestures, they repeated several times the word whurra, which signifies ‘begone’ and walked away from us to the head of the bay.

The natives being departed, we set out to observe the country, which, on inspection rather disappointed our hopes, being invariably sandy and unpromising for the purposes of cultivation, though the trees and grass flourish in great luxuriancy.

Between this and our departure we had several more interviews with the natives, which ended in so friendly a manner that we began to entertain strong hopes of bringing about a connection with them. Our first object was to win their affections, and our next to convince them of the superiority we possessed: for without the latter, the former we knew would be of little importance.

An officer one day prevailed on one of them to place a target, made of bark, against a tree, which he fired at with a pistol, at the distance of some paces. The Indians, though terrified at the report, did not run away, but their astonishment exceeded their alarm, on looking at the shield which the ball had perforated. As this produced a little shyness, the officer, to dissipate their fears and remove their jealousy, whistled ‘the air of Malbrook’, which they appeared highly charmed with, and imitated him with equal pleasure and readiness.


William Cooper (1861-1941) – pioneering Aboriginal activist, Yorta Yorta man, and Secretary of the Australian Aborigines’ League – presented the following statement to the Commonwealth Minister for the Interior, Wednesday, 23 January, 1935.

This deputation has the honour to represent the Aboriginal population of Australia. We, on behalf of the descendants of the Aborigines, naturally are greatly concerned in everything effecting our people. We consider that it is one of the most pressing problems of the day. Yet it does not seem to seriously trouble the mind of the Government. Therefore, on behalf of the Aboriginal population of Australia, we appeal for a constructive policy with better conditions than those existing, and under which our people have to live.

“… Our people have been driven further and further into the barren wastes on which it is impossible to live for much longer.” – William Cooper

We respectfully remind the Government that a strict injunction to the effect “that the Aborigines and their descendants should be properly cared for” was included in the Commission issued to those who came overseas to Australia, and we trust the present Government will take every lawful means to extend the protection to the native population. Believing the British Empire to stand for justice, order, freedom and good Government we pledge ourselves as citizens of the British Commonwealth of Australia to maintain the heritage handed down to us by the Creator, which we believe to be true.

And we, therefore, with confidence, desire moderation and forbearance to be exercised by all classes in their intercourse with native inhabitants, and that they will omit no opportunity of assisting to fulfil His Majesty’s most gracious and benevolent intention to them by promoting advancement in civilisation under the blessing of Divine Providence. This injunction has not been carried into effect, for our people have been driven further and further into the barren wastes on which it is impossible to live for much longer.


The text of The Apology to Australia’s First Nations Peoples – delivered by the Prime Minister on 13 February, 2008

I move:

That today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

“We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.” – Kevin Rudd

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

Call To Confession

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)

Dear friends, the Scriptures urge us to acknowledge our many sins, and not to conceal them in the presence of God our heavenly Father, but to confess them with a penitent and obedient heart, so that we may be forgiven through his boundless goodness and mercy. Therefore, let us draw near to the throne of our gracious God, and say together:

Almighty and most merciful Father, we have strayed from your ways like lost sheep.

We have left undone what we ought to have done, and we have done what we ought not to have done.

We have followed our own ways and the desires of our own hearts. We have broken your holy laws.

Yet, good Lord, have mercy on us; restore those who are penitent, according to your promises declared to mankind in Jesus Christ our Lord.

And grant, merciful Father, for his sake, that we may live a godly and obedient life, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

Merciful Lord, grant to your faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve you with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your Name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.

Bible readings

Isaiah 58:6-10

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”

“Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: ‘Here am I.’

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

Revelation 7:9-12

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”


Creator God, you made from one man all nations and determined where each should live. We bring before you the Indigenous people of Australia. We acknowledge the history that has damaged the relationship between them and later arrivals to this land. Thank you for the steps that have been taken on the journey towards reconciliation. Deepen this process among us.

Guide national and community leaders to speak the truth in love, to seek justice with mercy and to care for those who are disadvantaged. Strengthen Indigenous church leaders to shepherd your flock faithfully, and strengthen all Indigenous Christians to be salt and light in their communities and in the whole nation. Give Indigenous and non-Indigenous believers grace to demonstrate the new family you are making in Christ out of people from every nation, tribe, language and people, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

To all nations grant unity, peace and concord; and to everyone in your world give dignity, food, and shelter.

Hear us, good Lord.

Grant us abundant harvests; strength and skill to conserve the resources of the earth; and wisdom to use them well.

Hear us, good Lord.

Strengthen and preserve all women who are in childbirth, and all young children; and comfort the aged and lonely.

Hear us, good Lord.

Defend and provide for the widowed and the fatherless, the refugees and the homeless, and all who are desolate and oppressed.

Hear us, good Lord.

Heal those who are sick in body or mind; and give skill and compassion to all who care for them.

Hear us, good Lord.

Grant us true repentance; forgive our sins, negligences, and ignorances; and strengthen us by your Holy Spirit to amend our lives according to your holy word.

Hear us, good Lord.

Further prayers and thanksgivings for the nation and leaders of Australia

Amazing Grace in Yolngu – by Gurrumul Yunupingu and Paul Kelly


Be Thou My Vision, Irish c. 8th century (tr. Mary E. Byrne 1905 and Eleanor H Hull 1912)


The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, evermore. Amen.

*St Philip’s Order of Service refers to First Nations People as Indigenous peoples.  

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