Thursday, 20 February 2020

Truth-telling, lament and liberating hope

Written by Stuart McMillan, Assembly Consultant Covenanting

An increasing number of congregations and agencies marked the Uniting Church’s Day of Mourning in January.

Since 2019, the Church has asked its members to set aside a day to lament and acknowledge the ongoing impacts of invasion and colonisation on Australia’s First Peoples. People gathered for worship in a variety of ways on Sunday 19 January 2020 and in the week leading up to 26 January.

UAICC President Rev Garry Dronfield explained in a video clip why a Day of Mourning was adopted by the 15th Assembly 2018.

“The Day of Mourning is something we asked the Church to be a part of. We are asking, not to the change the date of Australia Day necessarily, but to mourn with us, through the sufferings of our people.”

“We just want to remember and mourn together, so that we can bring some healing and reconciliation.”

UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer thanked those who took part. “In our ongoing commitment to our covenant relationship as First and Second Peoples we are invited to follow in Christ’s way of justice, healing and reconciliation building relationships of truth and healing in our own communities and in our nation.”

Day of Mourning 2020 Cover.png

The 2020 Day of Mourning resource featured a striking artwork by First Nation artist Sam Jones, depicting the story of Murder Creek – the site where members of the Kabi Kabi people were massacred near Noosa in the 1860s.

The artwork featured in the 2019 Day of Mourning service at the Tewantin Uniting Church, and was a key part of the 2020 worship service as well. Jenny and Neil Simms, retired ministers who fellowship at Tewantin Uniting Church on the Sunshine Coast, led the service.

The painting was provided by the Beulah Community, a Christian community focused on social justice issues including Indigenous reconciliation.

Jenny and Neil report: “Heather from the Beulah community provided two original songs, River of Tears which has an associated painting and the song Rejoice which is associated with the healing of the land, based on Psalm 126.”

“Heather and Sam sang the songs with guitar and Sam explained his painting about the massacre and played the didgeridoo.”

The service even received coverage in the Noosa community newspaper. It is wonderful to see how local connections between First and Second Peoples at Tewantin have grown over this year. I thank the Beulah community and the Tewantin Congregation for their generosity for a second year.

It is my hope for all communities to grow relationships with the UAICC and/or other First Peoples communities in your area. At Wesley Gardens, a Uniting facility in the Sydney suburb of Belrose, Chaplain Rev. Brian Hayes led the community in a deep and reflective service. They used the resource in their worship and sang the alternative words to the National Anthem which recognises this ancient land in a more appropriate way.

Habitat Uniting Church in Victoria also adapted the worship resource for their service. The sermon included the 1980s lyrics of a song by the Australian band Goanna, Solid Rock, Sacred Ground[i] (Puli Pulka[ii]), together with reflections from ‘The Passing of the Birrarang’ (Melbourne’s original name) from Tim Flannery’s book, Life Selected Writings and other historical writings.

Their gathering lamented dispossession and violence but was hope-filled because of truth-telling.

In Sydney’s inner west, at Leichhardt UCA Day of Mourning service, Rev. Radhika Sukumar-White delivered a powerful sermon:
“When we stop talking and listen, we hear that the church in Australia is built on stolen land, Indigenous land, and shares in a history of racism, massacre, abuse, stolen children, imprisonment and death in custody, and ongoing disadvantage.”

“We hear that this legacy is really ours because we have explained, justified or remained silent in the face of this reality.

“When we stop talking and listen, we make space to realise anew that we have acted in ways that deny the worth of some of God’s people, equally made in God’s image, and that Jesus is found amongst the most marginalised (according to Matthew 25), and in Australia, this means amongst First Peoples.”

Revs Claire Dawe and Bob Ridley led a service at Manningham Uniting Church in northeast Melbourne and invited people to reflect on the questions:

What does this mean for us this morning as we gather to pray on this Day of Mourning?
What does this mean for our relationship with First Peoples, the land and God?

Listen to the sermon

Songwriter Rev. David MacGregor from the Transforming Worship Assembly Circle wrote a special song Why Lord O Why and posted the music and lyrics on-line. Some of the lyrics read:

Why Lord, O why
such injustice, abuse
language and law,
and culture suppressed?
Sovereignty stolen
and spirit despised
and church there complicit
Before mournful eyes?

David and Craig Mitchell, Presbytery Minister - Church Development from Port Phillip East Presbytery, also made available an earlier song they’d collaborated on – How Shall We Sing.

In our Assembly Circles, there was a conversation about useful children’s books for the Day of Mourning service. Sorry Sorry by Anne Maxine Kerr with illustrations by Marda Pitt (UAICC QLD) is a great resource.

 Sorry Sorry

Children and family ministry specialist Rev. Wendy Lewis posted some great resources on the Transforming Worship Circle Facebook page which could be inserted in the liturgy for use in an all age service with children and families. Wendy blogs at The Cross in my Backyard.

The Hunter Presbytery shared the resource with all of its congregations and Hamilton Wesley Uniting Church led a worship service on 19 January. So too did Glenbrook St Andrews Congregation in NSW.

In South Australia, The Grove Uniting Church in the Adelaide suburb of Woodville Gardens incorporated into their worship service a selection of material from Archie Roach’s Tell Me Why story and CD.

Archie Roach and the Dusty Feet Mob (UAICC Port Augusta) are the focus of Dusty Feet Mob – This Story’s True, a new short documentary to share healing stories of the Stolen Generations
Archie Roach and the Dusty Feet Mob (UAICC Port Augusta) are the focus of Dusty Feet Mob – This Story’s True, a new short documentary to share healing stories of the Stolen Generations [ Video ]

Pilgrim Uniting Church in the city of Adelaide combined their worship with added reflections from artist Ben Quilty and his exhibition at the SA Art Gallery.

Ben has said: “Paint’s such a luscious thing, such a beautiful medium that you can kind of deceive people into reading the story that they would [otherwise] be uncomfortable reading naturally.”

A cruel irony for Quilty who has studied Aboriginal culture and history is that in many cases the most beautiful locations in Australia also have the darkest human histories.

Irin Irinji, Ben Quilty ©2018
Irin Irinji, Ben Quilty ©2018

After spending time with Anangu Elders on the APY Lands in SA’s north, Ben was told of a brutal massacre. In 2018 the Elders took him to the site and asked him to paint it.

He said, “The Anangu wanted me to tell their story of standing up for their land, and this [painting] was the response to that.”

Our sister Alison Overeem from Leprena UAICC Community in Tasmania posted this reflection:

As we walk together and as the 26th nears
Let the truth telling begin
Amid the celebration and tears
Tears of mourning
Celebrations of survival
This is a day so filtered with hurt and pain
Amidst it all is the need to unlearn, the need to engage in truth telling of the colonial impacts on first people, that continue…

Often and too often that came is the guise of a building with a steeple

If we cannot sit with the past and hear stories of removal, attempted genocide, stolen lands and broken treaties
We cannot sit with true cultural justice

For me, every day and every week is embedded deeply in mourning
for first people

As the 19th approaches let the messages shared be part of the messages at every gathering of our UCA and beyond

To acknowledge hurt and harm is to then engage in healing
Tasmania – the site of the worse massacres in Australia !!
The land of broken promises and a broken treaty, may this be spoken across Lutrawita and across the country on the 19th

We who are here we who have survived

In the South Sydney Herald, published by the South Sydney Uniting Church with a readership of 30,000, Rev. Dorothy McMahon wrote a feature piece on the Day of Mourning.

It was wonderful to receive inquiries from people outside the Uniting Church asking about services in their area which they could attend.

Next year, we are thinking of asking people to register their services so that people who do not normally attend our churches can attend a service.
I know there are many more stories and reflections and we’d really love to hear all your stories and see any photos.

Especially we’d like to hear about local connections you are making as you live out the Covenant, what are the stories of new life in your communities.

The Day of Mourning is about truth-telling, lament and the abundant grace and liberating hope of Christ.

Desmond Tutu said: “True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.”

Let us engage in truth-telling and share our stories and the hope we have as we walk together in covenant relationship with one another.