By Penny Mulvey
On 17 March, Uniting Church members from across the nation will begin a week of prayer and fasting for justice for our First Peoples.
The week, which includes a public prayer vigil outside Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday 18 March, came about as a direct result of the stories shared by members of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress at the 13th Assembly in July 2012.
Uniting Church members are being called to A Destiny Together by the Assembly. The phrase was adopted from the revised Preamble to the Constitution, which reminds us of the Church’s covenantal relationship with Congress and the potential ‘for a fuller expression of our reconciliation in Jesus Christ’.
Moderator Dan Wootton and a delegation of more than 20 Uniting Church members from the VicTas Synod are travelling to Canberra to participate in the public prayer vigil. They will join Assembly President, Rev Prof Andrew Dutney and UAICC Chairperson Rev Rronang Garrawurra in an historic public witness to justice and reconciliation.
Prof Dutney, in a media release to mark the sixth anniversary of the national apology (13 February), said that Prime Minister Rudd’s speech was a reminder that the grief of the First Peoples was something that all Australians needed to recognise and address.
“This was not about guilt, or about being weighed down by the past,” Prof Dutney said.
“The apology enabled us as individuals to acknowledge that the wrongs committed against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples did not represent the ‘ideal’ Australia – the nation we wanted to be.”
The Uniting Church has also apologised and it has, through the revised Preamble to the Constitution of the Uniting Church, recognised the place of First Peoples in Australia.
When Congress members addressed the 13th Assembly they spoke of their daily encounters with racism. In the theological resource prepared for A Destiny Together, Rev Dr Chris Budden makes clear what racism means:
“What Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience in housing, education, employment, imprisonment rates, early deaths, and ongoing injustice like ‘Stronger Futures’ laws (previously known as the Northern Territory Intervention) is not just injustice but racism. It is racism because as a community we would not tolerate these things if they were happening to non-Aboriginal people.”
Dr Budden quotes scholar and Aboriginal activist Mick Dodson:
Social justice is what faces you when you get up in the morning. It is awakening in a house with an adequate water supply, cooking facilities and sanitation. It is the ability to nourish your children and send them to a school where their education not only equips them for employment but reinforces their knowledge of and appreciation of their culture. It is the prospect of genuine employment and good health; a life of choices and opportunity, free from discrimination. (1994)
Let this be our prayers for all people on that day and every day.