Hundreds gathered at Adelaide West Uniting Church on Saturday to celebrate the ordination of Rev Denise Champion, the first Indigenous woman of any Christian denomination ordained in South Australia. Prominent Indigenous elder Lowitja O’Donoghue was also in attendance.
Ms Champion is an Adnyamathanha woman from the Flinders Ranges and the chair of Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) in South Australia.
“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,” Ms Champion said.
“As an ordained minister, I know I will be empowered by Congress [the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress] to fulfil the mandate to have Aboriginal people ministering to other Aboriginal people.”
This year marks 30 years since UAICC was established. Since then, the Uniting Church has embarked on a journey towards reconciliation with Australia’s First Peoples through initiatives such as About FACE and the Week of Prayer and Fasting.
In 2009, the Uniting Church revised its preamble to the constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the original inhabitants of this country. The Uniting Church is the first church in Australia to adopt a recognition statement in its constitution.
Uniting Church President Rev Prof Andrew Dutney has released his final message ahead of the installation of his successor Rev Stuart McMillan on 12 July. In the Uniting Church 2015 anniversary video, Prof Dutney says the Church must continue building bridges with the nation’s First Peoples.
“God is calling us to be a Church that is being shaped and re-shaped in the covenant between Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress and the Uniting Church,” he said.
“The Church is called to be a ‘fellowship of reconciliation’ and nowhere is reconciliation more needed in this nation than between the First and Second Peoples.”
Prof Dutney says that while the Uniting Church has made significant progress over the past 30 years, the journey towards genuine reconciliation is ongoing.
“We’ve made a start, but still have far to go to achieve that reconciliation and deep fellowship in Christ, which is our destiny together,” Prof Dutney said.
“It’s hard and it’s taken a long time, but it is the kind of Church that God is calling us to be”
Prof Dutney believes God is calling for a culturally and linguistically diverse Church, instead of a Eurocentric Church with adds-ons from other cultures.
“Reconciliation doesn’t mean everyone being the same. It doesn’t mean one version of being human or being Christian replacing all the others,” Prof Dutney said.
“It means people and groups that are different and divided from each other being brought together in Christ to respect, value, trust and serve one another.”
Image from Uniting Church, Synod of South Australia.