The gulf between us is vast (but Christ is in our midst)
On September 24 Synod was presented with 29 recommendations for covenanting and partnership within the Uniting Church.
The recommendations came as part of a report from Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC), NSW and the ACT Region.
Review and Resourcing Agent for Congress, Mr Howard Amery, and Chairperson Mrs Diane Torrens, presented the report, entitled “Re-Viewing Our Future: Catching the Vision”.
You could hear a pin drop when, standing as one, they recited ten alternating words for white invaders from languages around Australia, followed by acts of injustice against Australia’s first peoples since invasion.
Symbolically moving apart, the speakers concluded that “the gulf between us is vast”. Walking back to the shared centre, they said, “Christ is in our midst.”
Mr Amery said that in April 2010 the Synod had approved changes to the Constitution of the Uniting Church, recognising the place of First Peoples.
“What we as a Uniting Church have done, and begun together, is not a small thing,” said Mrs Torrens.
Mr Amery added, “Representatives of the Federal Government are currently in dialogue with the Uniting Church as they seek to find ways to similarly recognise the place of First Peoples in the Australian Constitution.”
But they said there was still much work to be done.
The 29 recommendations for covenanting and partnership were addressed to presbyteries, agencies of the church, congregations and individuals. Four related to the Synod.
Mr Amery said, “One of the major issues for discussion at this Synod is presbytery boundaries. From a Congress perspective we would strongly encourage this Synod meeting to think in terms of a smaller number of presbyteries so that there is a more equitable allocation of existing resources.
“Also, in terms of forming meaningful partnerships with presbyteries, the current number of 13 presbyteries is far too large to contemplate. Congress’ interests and the interests of the whole Synod would be much better served if there were a significantly reduced number of presbyteries.”
He also said, “As a Synod we should incorporate appropriate acknowledgement and worship practices that recognise the place of First Peoples.
“In terms of property, Synod should assist Congress of NSW and the ACT to acquire strategic property holdings and build towards a capital base of over $10 million to sustain future ministry.
“There should be funding for covenanting initiatives and we should seek opportunities for active partnerships with congregations, presbyteries and Synod; and promote the development of Shared Use Agreements and MOUs to extend hospitality to Indigenous community groups or local Congress ministry.”
For presbyteries and agencies of the Uniting Church, the same suggestions were made, with the addition of the establishment of a covenanting and Congress support groups.
Congregation were encouraged to make liturgical acknowledgements, include First Peoples in prayers for the people, learn songs and the Lord’s prayer in local languages, sponsor the translation of contemporary worship songs and dedicate offerings for Congress’ ministry on Invasion Day and during NAIDOC.
They could start study and discussion groups, focusing on the Preamble of the Constitution, the Basis of Union, or Following Jesus in Invaded Space by Chris Budden.
Other considerations were shared use agreements for church buildings and acknowledgement plaques to recognise Indigenous presence and ownership.
Individuals or members of local covenanting or the Congress support groups could research the history of invasion in their local district and show respect for special places of cultural and historical significance by encouraging local government and land councils to erect interpretive signage.
Oral history projects would help people to tell stories of survival, using a variety of mediums such as biographies, craft exhibitions and profiles and we can start language initiatives which assist people to reclaim their language.
The report aims to stimulate school projects, pointing out possible partnership opportunities in local schools, the option of making local research available, assisting in developing resources for teachers and students, support language initiatives or developing submissions to the national history curriculum.
Individuals could also offer scholarship funds for Indigenous students to engage in secondary and Tertiary studies or participate in acts of solidarity, for example during Australia Day, Invasion Day, NAIDOC, and Myall Creek Memorial Day.
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