Former national chairperson and Victoria state director for the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC), Rev Ken Sumner, was recently appointed the director of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission (NATSIEC) at the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA).
Mr Sumner, who was ordained in the Uniting Church in 1998, comes from the Ngarrindjeri people of the River Murray, Coorong and Lakes of South Australia. His new position began at the end of May.
Mr Sumner will assist NATSIEC to implement their strategic plan comprising research and policy advocacy and the provision of professional and theological advice to the member churches. NATSIEC will also keep member churches informed of current issues facing Indigenous peoples.
“In my role I’ll be involved in social justice issues for Indigenous people such as constitutional recognition and the Northern Territory intervention,” Mr Sumner said.
“Part of NATSIEC’s mandate is to provide a forum for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to speak and take action on issues of faith, mission, evangelism, spirituality, theology, social justice, land rights – a whole range of things.
“In all organisations there’s room for improvement. One of the biggest things is communication. NCCA haven’t had anyone in this position for a while so the work of the commission has been put on hold. Part of what I’ll be doing is reconnecting, both within the NCCA itself and with member churches.
“I’m finding it really exciting to be sitting with other church groups and learning. Sometimes you have to sit and be quiet and listen. My thoughts and my traditions are different – so it’s about practicing respect and listening, which I think is exciting.”
The NCCA brings together 19 member churches in Australia and is also connected to the World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia. It has several aims which include strengthening ecumenical ties and advocacy for social justice issues and marginalised people in Australia and beyond. Along with its international aid agency, Act for Peace, it provides financial support through grants administered by different commissions of the council.
“NATSIEC has an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander development fund which supports small programs and projects in the Indigenous community with grants from $1000 to $10,000. Part of my role is gathering that information so the commission can make decisions on grants,” Mr Sumner said.
The Commission works with Aboriginal representative groups from the Anglican, Catholic and Lutheran churches as well as the Salvation Army and Church of Christ.