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There is So Much Grief

Don Hayward
Pastor Don Hayward is a Noongar man and Pastor of the Aboriginal Berean Community Church in Adelaide.

There is a huge amount of grief in our communities. We do a lot of funeral services and I always think that the church could have a greater ministry with the grief and trauma that has riddled our Aboriginal community.

I have had experience in a lot of different areas of ministry. Before I took over the ministry of the church my work was with kids, young kids on the street, petrol sniffers, I’ve worked with those within the juvenile institutions and with men and women in the prisons, in the area of drug and alcohol rehab. As Aboriginal people we know that there is what I call “compound grief.”

I grew up on a reserve in Katanning in the SW of WA and I saw the incredible violence that was on those reserves and I often wondered why? Why would there be so much violence? It was only later that I learned about internalised oppression. On the missions they took away all the connections that Aboriginal people had had with the land. Our men just lost their place. I remember my grandfather and his two brothers. They worked on the railway lines and were state league footballers but they could only travel to Perth on the train for the game and then when the game finished they had to take the train back to Katanning.

I wondered what impact that would have on them till I learned about internalised oppression where you either take your anger back on yourself or you take it out on your community. When I started working in the church I found I was doing an incredible number of funeral services. It was then that I realised the amount of grief that Aboriginal people are carrying. I do not know how we have ever been able to do it without more lives being destroyed. This grief is so compound and complex.

Because of the extended family structure there is an obligation for you to go to funeral services but before you can work through your grief with one family member you are going to another funeral and then to another one.

Because of the extended family structure there is an obligation for you to go to funeral services but before you can work through your grief with one family member you are going to another funeral and then to another one. So something has to give. A lot of our people have mental health problems and there are a lot of people with addictions. I always knew that it was symptomatic of other things.

There is so much grief. There is grief of things being taken away. There is the loss of our identity and trying to find that again but there is also grief at the loss of the places we had in our community. Men and women and children had a place. This is compounded because of the number of Aboriginal people that have passed away... There is still a life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

We see a lot of young people die. And a lot of the funerals are quite tragic you know. So thats is why I have really started thinking about how can the church start responding to that a lot better.

As a pastor I will go to a funeral service and then come back and I do not have the time to visit the families and then I have got to go to another funeral service. One year I did 36 funeral services in the year. I said to the funeral directors “I can’t do that anymore. It's just too many.”

Conducting all these funerals gave me a great sense how much grief is in our community. Families are left to plod along but I can see what's happening. The outworking of that grief is evident.

The other thing is that we have trauma. The traumatic events that happen in our community (and I see it a lot in our church) around child sexual abuse, around abuse, around racism all them sorts of things are in there as well. There are all these things that are having an effect within our church community.

One of the things we keep saying is that when, and I’m talking in the context of the Aboriginal church, when Aboriginal people come to the Lord there is a sense of hope a sense of “everything is going to be alright” but what we know is that when they make a decision to come to the Lord they still have the grief and trauma of the years going back, all their years going right back to their childhood. There have been some very traumatic events that have occurred and so when they try and live out their faith unless they get healed from those things it is very very hard and challenging and difficult. We have been working on this in our church for 7 - 8 years now.

We need a holistic approach to Aboriginal health and healing and we as a church need to be involved.

One of the things we have spoken about is that we as a church need to be wholistic. In years gone by we would always say to someone - you just have to read the Word and pray. We know that those are important things but now we know that we have to create opportunities for people to be healed and delivered . In this church at the moment we are looking at trying to develop a process of how we can help people work through some of those issues. We need a holistic approach to Aboriginal health and healing and we as a church need to be involved.

It's very exciting for us because we know that we’ve done some things with people in our church and seen significant changes. For some of them it has been a very difficult journey because the hurt goes so far back. We are talking about a trauma that occurred a long time ago and never had healing. These are the things we are facing as a church. Some of those things people have kept secret for a long time... So we need to look at grief as well as trauma and you can’t separate them.

It makes the job of an indigenous pastor difficult. What you are trying to do is to encourage people to grow in their faith but there are so many things working against that... so you continuously following up and visiting things that are like a revolving door. There are patterns and cycles in people's lives. So we got together 7 -8 years ago and said look our ministry can not be like this revolving door all the time because all we are doing is responding to the grief and trauma and all the other things that have happened in our lives. We need to start looking at the source. What are the things that they need to deal with and be delivered from. It is a very different way to look at our ministry.

Of course this kind of minister is a mandate from God. He asks us to be involved! When you look at Jesus he did not just say to the people - listen to my words and thats it go and pray. He had compassion on the people and saw that they needed feeding, they needed healing and they needed deliverance. So this whole holistic approach was in many ways displayed by Jesus.

I don’t know if this makes us a bit of a radical church. I think we are more of a church that has seen all the issues and continued issues and continued cycles in people's lives and we are thinking that the church needs to be more than that. There has to be a way that we can do it ourselves as a church or work things out with community orgs. I think it most probably will be that we will work in conjunction with community organisation. To be able to see the health and wellbeing in the church improve.


Pastor Don Hayward is a Noongar man and Pastor of the Aboriginal Berean Community Church in Adelaide.