“We need you; you need us,” Aunty Jean Phillips told a crowded #ChangetheHeart service at St Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral in Sydney last night.
The respected Aboriginal Christian leader invited the congregation in the city centre to “come on a journey with Aboriginal people … we’re going to change this nation.”
The service was one of 23 #ChangetheHeart services around the country to call on Christians to gather, pray, lament and hear the truth about past injustices and discrimination still faced by Aboriginal people. The service was led by Brooke Prentis, who is about to take up her role as CEO of Common Grace.
Prentis opened the service by saying she wanted “friendship, not reconciliation, between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.”
Aunty Jean and Lea Maslen started these services seven years ago. They have been gathering prominence and momentum; along with meeting in Sydney Anglicanism’s prime property, Aunty Jean will speak tonight at a service in St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Melbourne.
Despite this progress in awareness of the #ChangetheHeart movement, Aunty Jean said that in Brisbane, her hometown, and all around the country, life is not easy for Aboriginal people. They face homelessness, poverty and prison.
“And we in Christian ministry are caught up with all of those things and it’s not easy,” she said.
“Most Aboriginal ministry in this country has never been supported by the church and that’s just so sad.
“The churches in this country really have inherited so much from what has happened to our people – and we don’t begrudge them for that, but we don’t have those kinds of luxuries. Most Aboriginal ministries have never been supported.”
She then spoke of some of the 12 Aboriginal pastors who have passed away over the past 12 months, including Stan Grant’s Aunty, Flo Grant, who had fought the churches for justice for many years.
“I want to ask every church in Australia to adopt someone in Aboriginal ministry …” – Aunty Jean Phillips
She quoted Aboriginal Lutheran Pastor George Rosendale, who passed away a few months ago, as saying “there will never be reconciliation and revival in this country until we acknowledge the theft of this land and what has happened to Aboriginal people.”
“We don’t want your churches or your buildings back, but you need to acknowledge it and to help us to face those challenges and those needs that are before us,” she said.
Aunty Jean then put out a challenge: “I want to ask every church in Australia to adopt someone in Aboriginal ministry for prayer, for friendship and to pay their resources.”
She mentioned that South Brisbane Anglican Church had raised money to pay the registration for the vehicles of “our people” going into Aboriginal ministries.
“Well, that’s good but Australia has the responsibility of supporting the First Nations people in their ministries. You wouldn’t know the poverty until you come and live with us in the Aboriginal community,” she said.
Aunty Jean also called on churches to reach out and help young Aboriginal people including those in prison.
“The sin of this nation – a lot of our kids are locked up in prison because of stealing and, yet, the theft of this land has never been dealt with,” she said.
“I’ll be writing to all the heads of churches – and asking what they’re doing about chaplaincy and doing things with these young people. All the wealth that they’ve got – remember, the wealth that has come because of what has happened to Aboriginal people.
Aunty Jean called on church leaders to invite an Aboriginal minister to come and preach at their meetings.
“That’s why we’re calling on you tonight to come and join us and pray.
“Get to know us. I’m not going to growl at you. I do growl sometimes. But we’re all coming to join together. The Prime Minister or the government is not going to change Australia, but you and I are going to change us – when you pledge tonight to pray that we might be able to change this nation through true reconciliation.”
Aunty Jean called on church leaders to invite an Aboriginal minister to come and preach at their meetings. She recommended Aboriginal pastor Ray Minniecon – who was at last night’s service – as a “great biblical teacher”.
“Ray, will you come up here, son. Come on, come on up,” Aunty Jean beckoned to Uncle Ray.
While standing with Aunty Jean, he suggested that the congregation give Aboriginal pastors a surprise and visit them on Sunday, January 26.
“If you want to join us at Aboriginal church services, then surprise Michael Duckett out at St Peter’s in Campbelltown, or you can go out to Tregear to Richard Manton – give him a big surprise,” encouraged Uncle Ray.
“You have an Aboriginal ministry also in Redfern, Elizabeth Street with Matthew Paterson, or you can come to St John’s in Glebe and join us there. So, please, you’re always welcome; come and meet us and enjoy our fellowship in Christ.”
Aunty Jean urged the congregation not to criticise Aboriginal people for marching on Sunday “because they’re hurting and that’s the only opportunity that they have of telling their stories”.
She said that presented an “opportunity of reaching out to those people and telling them of God’s love”.
“So, don’t criticise them; pray for them and get your minister to pray for us all together on Sunday – praying for the relationships between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people.”