This article is the final in a series of four, designed to prompt and motivate church leaders to practice reflective discernment on important themes.
Theme Four: Our Indigenous Footprints – Future Engagement
With the onset of winter, the Australian football league again honoured our indigenous brothers and sisters with a special ‘Sir Douglas Nicholls’ Dreamtime round. Many readers might not be familiar with Doug, an AFL footballer, a Church of Christ pastor (Fitzroy in Melbourne), the first indigenous Governor within Australia (South Australia) and honoured as a Knight Bachelor on the 3rd June 1972.
Doug was born at Cummeragunja in 1906, the NSW Aboriginal reserve situated in Yorta Yorta country, about 32km from Echuca just across the Murray River. His, like many indigenous Christians, is a story of hardship, perseverance, suffering and triumph. Doug was the first Churches of Christ Pastor in Australia, who managed to bridge many spheres of influence due to his passionate love of life and people. He and his late wife Gladys are buried in the cemetery at Cummeragunja; an extraordinary couple who were genuine pioneers helping to change cultures across Australia.
There are many others like Doug, who in our history have and continue to impact communities across the indigenous nations within Australia. Space precludes mentioning them all, but they are all important voices and individuals who need to be honoured and deeply respected. As a family of churches, we are indebted to their contributions, their faith and their indigenous heritage.
Another key pioneer was the late Pastor Cec Grant OAM (known in Wiradjuri as Wongamarr/Wungamaa). Cec pastored at our Lavington Church in Albury and passed away in 2005. He was a pioneer of the Welcome to Wiradjuri signs and led the way in reviving Wiradjuri language programs in partnership with Charles Sturt University. The Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture organised 10 years of lectures (finishing in March 2017) to celebrate his life.
In 2016, Cec’s nephew, award winning journalist Stan Grant Jn, published a compelling book – ‘Talking to my Country’.
He writes: ‘We occupy the same land, but we tell ourselves different stories… The Australian dream abandoned us to rot on government missions, tore apart families, condemned us to poverty. There was no place for us in this modern country and everything we have won has come from dissent, it has been torn from the reluctant grasp of a nation that for much of its history hoped that we would disappear.’
I found myself reading Stan’s book and seriously contemplating the reality of modern Australia; it is a book that is gut-wrenching and calls into question much of what we might believe or have been told of the indigenous quest.
It’s no wonder as we arrive mid 2018, that the respected Aboriginal lawyer, academic and activist Noel Pearson has produced a draft declaration of Australia for the Australian people. His ideas seek to make for a more unified and reconciled nation, designed to sit alongside (not within) the Australian constitution. His draft uses symbolic language, seeking to offer a moral, social and cultural statement (as complimentary stories) to build trust and awareness. I like it – it’s proactive, honest and realistic and opens a way forward for future commitments to help one another.
There is no doubt that our indigenous history is shameful, dating back to the events at Sydney Cover in 1788. To ignore the plight of those who first occupied these lands with such rich culture, ancient laws and customs and deep community would scar us forever.
The church at times has been helpful and hurtful. We all know we can’t change the past, but through gentle prayerful dialogue we might offer hope to the future of these wonderful friends, colleagues and peoples. Surely, we must seek to understand life from the perspectives of others, practising our faith in tangible ways to support, care and champion reconciliation and hope.
Here at Fresh Hope we are endeavouring to respond to the prompts of God with respect to indigenous ministry. Personally, I will be working through our agencies over the next 6-12 months to see how we might pioneer across NSW and the ACT to explore new opportunities for care, service and mission.
I’d also like to suggest three conversations for church leaders as follows:
- Understanding Australian history through the lens of indigenous cultures:
The voices and concerns of our indigenous peoples continue to resonate with our Christian traditions to ensure everyone is valued regardless of race or background. I wonder how long since you’ve had an indigenous guest speaker grace your church? Perhaps you could plan a special Sunday where you invite your local community to engage together as a step of healthy relationship.
For reflection and conversation: Does your church leadership community have views or positions on reconciliation with our indigenous peoples? What resources do you have or might access that help your faith community be informed and responsive to indigenous concerns? You might like to read 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 as you consider your views on reconciliation.
- Prayer, gentle dialogue and open hearts:
Our ability to engage in gentle dialogue with open hearts is orientated as we prayerfully consider the challenges and issues within reconciliation, justice and care. Given we have just completed national reconciliation week, you might like to visit www.reconciliation.org.au and prayerfully respond to some of the areas listed.
For reflection and conversation: As you prayerfully consider our nation in 2018, what issues are emerging that warrant gentle dialogue within your community? How might your faith community open their hearts towards blessing our indigenous brothers and sisters? Would your church be willing to share a story with our broader Fresh Hope community as you pursue this journey? If so– please contact our office.
- Engagement rather than resistance:
Recently I was chatting with a dear friend about our predominant resistant or adversarial postures evident in many relationships. I feel we have all too often been conditioned to engage in relationships with a view to win or dominate. I wonder how we might consider engaging in reconciliation from perspectives of mutual respect, honour, care, stewardship and trust?
For reflection and conversation: Does your faith community understand the needs and concerns of indigenous people nearby? How might you engage in conversation, action and partnership with an indigenous community (either nearby or in another area of our church networks)? If someone was to write the history of your church fifty years from now, what would they write about your story of engagement with indigenous peoples?
For the kingdom of God remains a mutual environment of love and respect. Grace, courage and intention to you and your community.
Dr. Andrew Ball
Executive Ministry Director
 Clark M. T. Pastor Doug. The Story of Sir Douglas Nicholls: Aboriginal Leader. ©1975 Seal Books
 Grant S. Talking to My Country. The book that every Australia should read. © 2016 Haper Collins.
 Published in the Australian Newspaper – See https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/inquirer/in-the-spirit-of-getting-the-ball-rolling-noel-pearson-offers-this-declaration-of-australia-and-the-australian-people/news-story/ed799975812fe15795d4690409e11638