This is part 7 in a 7-part series “7 Reflections on Reconciliation”, for Reconciliation Week, based on interviews with four Christians from Indigenous and non-Indigenous backgrounds.
Interviews by Ben Clarke, Supporter Engagement Officer - TEAR’s work with First Peoples.
Rhanee Tsetsakos, an Adnyamathanha woman from Port Augusta with close family ties to country and family in the northern Flinders Ranges - Adnyamathanha country, works for the Uniting Church in South Australia.
The church is an amazing platform that can reach different audiences and is uniquely able to communicate with different people from different backgrounds and beliefs. That's how you get stories and messages across. Some churches are in good positions to be able to communicate and create spaces where people who don't usually get to come together can come together and communicate and hear each other’s stories. The church has an important part to play in creating these spaces and being that platform where people can speak the words of Jesus.
The Church understands that words are important. We talk about Jesus being the Word of God. Our words, the church’s words, should be just as important as well. Being Aboriginal I understand that there is a position of deep listening. This is not just hearing what's on the surface but really finding out. Finding out where this Indigenous spiritual knowledge is coming from. It goes way back to beginning of creation. Why wouldn’t our ancestral lines, and we all know that Aboriginal culture is the oldest living surviving culture in the world, have that knowledge of the existence of God and the relationship with the creator? We can all learn from that.
I would like to encourage the church to be more involved in reconciliation. Within the church there are a lot of people who act as bridges, as people that connect people heart to heart. I encourage people to engage with the “bridges” to get to the other side. To do that, however, you need the willingness to take those first steps. You might be scared. You might fear the unknown. But a wonderful saying that's helped me and I have used as a chaplain in the schools comes from an emotion puppet we use. It says, “You can do this. Be brave. You've done hard things before.”
Steve Bevis, a TEAR Board member, is the Senior Minister at Alice Springs Uniting Church.
I think there is a resource of hope that lies in the Church. When we enter into the task of reconciliation in Australia as Christians, we bring with us the resources of knowing that God’s future is coming and that there is hope. God’s resurrection is at work, Jesus resurrection spirit is within us and between us. It is easy to get overwhelmed on the journey of reconciliation and the resources of fellowship that we have as Christians is something that we can bring into our contexts.
We can also bring our local congregations into this conversation. When we bring our congregations into the story of reconciliation we bring a whole bunch of people who are motivated to participate in God’s work. That brings energy, and people who are willing to go on that journey. They are able to work with their local community and that is a huge resource available to the body of Christ and it is already sitting there! For the church reconciliation is not just a big theological thing that we can discuss but is actually a practical process that we can go through together - non-Indigenous and Indigenous in the name of Christ together in this country.
The gift that lies before us as a Church is that, in my own experience, is the graciousness that awaits us in Aboriginal people. It is remarkable! Despite the history of mission, where they were brought the Gospel but continued to be disempowered, people who have lived that (and pretty much every Aboriginal family in this country went through the missions a generation or two ago) there is still a willingness to engage!
Tanya Riches is a Christian academic whose PhD focused on worship and social justice initiatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian leaders.
We, as the church, need to get better at walking into the marketplace and going “Oh! That is of God!” We need to practice affirming things instead of just decrying what is not of God. I think maybe that's our next step as the Australian church - something we need to mature into. We don't need to own this reconciliation but we do need to participate in it, and to partner with God who is reconciling the whole world to himself. That is what Christ is asking us to do.
Mark Kickett, a Noongar man from Noongar Whadjuk and Balardong country, is the State Development and Outreach Coordinator for the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress in South Australia.
Paul says we are Reconcilers. That is our destiny! God has enlisted us into that carrying that message! It is the way we live, it is the way we act. It is the way we speak! All this is the message of reconciliation because, through Jesus, my whole paradigm has shifted! I think a different way now! I act a different way now and I want the Church to get excited about that too!
Action is the best step someone can take. I would encourage people to connect within their communities. Most churches have Aboriginal leaders in their midst. There are Land Councils and organisations and voluntary places. I would encourage people to begin a journey that is non-judgmental and seeking; being tolerant and listening. This allows you to begin to hear the heart of people. You may run into some brick walls and some fairly strong people with strong views, but we need to find a way through that to build relationships and hear the heart’s cry of Aboriginal people.
NOTE: Not everyone is comfortable with the word reconciliation. Reconciliation talks of returning to a place when relationship was good and that has never been the case in Australia. Most people, however, continue to support the aims of the reconciliation movement.