President's reflection for UCA Day of Mourning

Dr Deidre Palmer gave the following reflection at worship at NYALC on Sunday 20 January 2019 - the day Uniting Church congregations and faith communities around Australia were asked to reflect on the effect of invasion and colonisation on Australia’s First Peoples and our identity as a nation.

What does the Lord require of us?

To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

In doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humby with God, the Uniting Church, from its beginning, has been committed to working together as First and Second Peoples, toward just, respectful and mutual relationships that recognise the place of First Peoples in Australia.

In the Uniting Church there is a Covenanting process that is ongoing between First and Second Peoples. It includes a process of reconciliation.

The Covenanting Process includes our past, present and future.

We are called to reflect on our past, live justly in reconciled relationships in our present, look to and begin to embody a shared future.

Reflecting on our past will include:

  • Acknowledging our history – the dispossession, the racism, the ongoing impacts on Aboriginal people, robbed of land, language and culture.
  • Acknowledging the Aboriginal spirituality that shaped our country thousands of years before the colonisers came.

Part of the Preamble to the Uniting Church’s Constitution that was added in 2010 acknowledges the Spirit’s presence here in this ancient land at the very beginning.

We have heard these words this morning in our prayers:

“The First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers.
The Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony.
The same love and grace that was finally and fully revealed in Jesus Christ sustained the First Peoples and gave them particular insights into God’s ways.”

As we stand here today, we acknowledge the Kaurna people’s connection to this land, their custodianship and ongoing cultural, spiritual connection.

Rev Mark Kickett, the Resource Worker for the Uniting Aboriginal Islander Christian Congress here in South Australia, and a member of our Assembly Standing Committee, reminds us of First Peoples' connection to the land:

“We understand about land. We understand about country. It’s not just rocks and dirt and trees. It’s who we are, it gives us identity because we are so intertwined.”

Our participation in God’s mission as the UCA will include acts of justice, healing and reconciliation in our relationship between First and Second Peoples.

These acts are an expression of our participation in God’s mission that we hear proclaimed in Jesus' words, drawn from the prophet Isaiah, that shape his ministry:

“to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and letting the oppressed go free”,

In 1994, the Uniting Church committed to a Covenant with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Dr Jill Tabart: the seventh President of the Uniting Church, declared this vision, when she read the UCA Covenanting Statement:

“I pray that this Covenant will unite us in a multi-racial bond of fellowship which will be a witness to God’s love for us all and a constant challenge to the continuing racism which oppresses you and separates us in this land. I pray that it will thus help us all to move towards a united Australia which respects this land in which we live, values the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and provides justice and equity for all.”

Living in the present, engaging and building relationship between First and Second Peoples will include appreciating what we bring to each other.

Rev Djiniyini Gondarra, a Uniting Church minister of the Word and a senior elder and indigenous rights advocate writes:

“We the Aboriginal people are a gift to the land and to the people who come here. You who have come here these last 200 years are also a gift to us. Justice, honesty and genuine reconciliation is the result when we have respect and honour for one another”.

Reconciliation suggests that there is something we are called toward a new human community of mutuality, respect, care and compassion,

Rev Denise Champion, a Deacon in the UCA, has spoken of her hopes for her ministry in ways that speak of this new community:

“I have been challenged, in my work in facilitating reconciliation between First and Second Peoples, to create a safe community. A community where people can come together, sit and talk, and experience healing and forgiveness for the past, finding a new destiny together.  We acknowledge that ours is a “Destiny together” acknowledging the wrongs of the past and the present and committing ourselves to take action to bring about a more just Australia. We hear Jesus calling us into the light of reconciliation." 

In Denise’s words from her book Yarta Wandatha:

“We are being presented, both First and Second Peoples with the opportunity to follow a new path that reconciles and heals. To do that we need to be able to sing together, dance together, sit down together, eat together, learn to live together in peace, and tell stories, allowing this land to speak to us and through us.” .

We have done many of these things together over these past four days.

As we observe this Day of Mourning today, as the Uniting Church across Australia, I pray that it will be part of a process that leads us along this new path that reconciles and heals - a path that aligns with Paragraph Three of the Basis of Union:

“The beginning of a new creation, of a new humanity and the reconciliation and renewal for the whole creation.”