While many of us were still enjoying January holidays, Aunty Jean Phillips and Brooke Prentis, with the support of the organisation Common Grace, were calling Australian Christians to pray in the lead up to January 26. Seventeen prayers services took place across Australia with over 2,000 Christians choosing to mark January 26 with prayer and a commitment to justice and Reconciliation.
January 26 is a date in Australia’s calendar which is known by many names: Invasion Day, Day of Mourning, Survival Day, Sovereignty Day, Australia Day. The #changetheheart prayer services provide an opportunity to move past the impasse of when Australia should celebrate a national holiday. Rather, the call to prayer – the call to ‘change the heart’ – is a call to look deeply at the current injustices faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; to acknowledge and lament Australia’s history of dispossession of First Peoples; and to seek God together.
On the 17th January 2019 at 6pm, 60 people gathered for an ecumenical prayer service at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture. Uncle Chris, an Arrernte elder from Alice Springs, led a smoking ceremony using the coals from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy at the start of the service. This gesture was an incredible symbol of hospitality and grace. Wiradjuri man, Uncle Johnny Huckle’s powerful voice greeted people as they entered the chapel and set the scene for the service that followed.
Brooke Prentis, a Waka Waka woman and Aboriginal spokesperson for Common Grace, led the service. Brooke was accompanied by Bianca Manning, Gomeroi woman and an emerging Aboriginal Christian leader from Newcastle, and Helen Wright, Newtown Mission’s Creative and Justice Pastor. Bianca and Helen led the singing of old favourites including ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ as well as some of Helen’s songs such as ‘Watch and Pray’ and ‘Sister, why do you weep?’. Singing together was a chance to deepen our collective call on God’s Spirit for justice and healing in the land we now call Australia.
The service was also a chance to learn about the history of January 26. Brooke started with the Aboriginal languages map which shows over 300 nations of Aboriginal peoples, who have been, and continue to be, the custodians and stewards of lands and waters for over 65,000 years.
She then shared the various ways that January 26 has been understood. The conversations that we are currently having are not new ones. In 1938, Aboriginal leader William Cooper called Australia to recognise January 26 as a Day of Mourning and to address the injustices Aboriginal peoples were facing. He also called on the Protestant churches to set aside the Sunday before January 26 as a day to pray and stand in solidarity with Aboriginal peoples. William Cooper petitioned King George and parliamentary representatives for compensation for stolen land and for specific representation in parliament by Aboriginal peoples. His is a story worth getting to know.
Brooke also shared the statistics that represent realities faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. She explained that these are not simply statistics, rather they are parents, children, friends, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Brooke shared accounts of Indigenous Deaths in Custody. She drew our attention to the significant report by Guardian Australia, ‘Deaths Inside’, and encouraged us to learn the stories of individuals.
When Brooke was interviewed on Radio National about the #changetheheart prayer services she commented that the desire for truthtelling and walking together to seek justice and healing were palpable at the services. She also spoke about the friendship and positive energy that was fostered over food after the services. Showing up and taking part opens the doors for renewed relationships in our shared discipleship as followers of Jesus the Christ.
Watch this space for details about the prayer service in the lead-up to January 26, 2020. Hope to see you there!
by Reverend Katherine Rainger
Read by Wiradjuri man Uncle Johnny Huckle at the service:
Father Our Creator,
You created all things, seen and unseen,
Listen to my silent prayer as I stand here before you.
As my weary eyes look back over distant horizons,
Back to those days where my people walked.
The footprints of my grandfathers are imprinted on the earth
And their images become real to me.
I see my Grandfathers standing tall and strong, warriors of long ago
I hear them singing I see them dancing
And my spirit moves within me.
They told of the emus fighting
And the kangaroos picking up the scent of our hunters
The images fade away as I feel the hurt of my people.
I can hear the cries of my Grandmothers as they cry for their children
Grandfather, you can see me as I stand here and feel this hurt
Father Creator, is this the purpose of my being here
Or is it your plan to reshape my people
To be once again the proud race it once was?
Let me walk with you and my Grandfathers
Towards the dawning of a proud and new nation.
I thank you for my Sacred Being.