Sharing in the journey of the Covenant

Nathaniel Taylor is a current Candidate as a Minister of the Word with the Uniting Church WA, who recently attended the Covenanting Intensive, reflecting on the covenantal relationship between the Uniting Church and the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress. Nathaniel shares the experience with Revive.

After getting the all clear from our Premier after a three day lockdown, the long anticipated Covenanting Intensive was able to go ahead on Sunday 2 May. And so, 17 of us converged on a beautifully situated property atop a hill in Chittering.

This portion of the Darling Scarp, just south of Bindoon, has stunning, rolling hills that would be reminiscent of other regions of the world if it weren’t for the smell of the bush and the sight of rugged Marri, Karri, and Jarrah throughout the landscape. Even though the area is painted in muted tones of greys and browns, it is still a wonderfully welcome place to escape for the weekend and discuss the work ahead of us in the Formation Program, as well as with those joining us from other walks of life in the Uniting Church WA. 

It was in this setting that we started our time with a Welcome to Country, offered by Mitchell Garlett – a Formation student with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress here in WA. We were reminded of the longstanding relationship God has with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family, and with the land we now call Australia.

We gave thanks for the good stewardship of creation this country has experienced alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and celebrated the fact that now here, all Second Peoples are invited to share in the responsibility of that stewardship. The language of ‘First and Second Nations Peoples in Australia’ is an apt reminder that we have 80 000 plus years of First Nations history to learn from, and 200 plus years of Second Nations history to improve on.

From this beautiful setting of gracious welcome, we started the work of understanding the true and historical experiences of invasion, colonisation, and genocide our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family were subject to. Through both personal accounts and stories lovingly learned and passed on to us, our hosts from Congress held a mirror to our society that was often hard to look at. 

It is often difficult to do, but important work to process.

So, I wonder where you are on this journey? Have you read the Uniting Church in Australia’s Covenant with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress? Do you know its history in relation to our Basis of Union? Have you read the Revised Preamble to the Uniting Church Constitution?

Are these documents and their place in both church and Australian history a topic of discussion for your community of faith? Is this something you could journey on together as a community about, or something you could study alongside your quiet time/personal devotional?

I wonder how you feel about this history, these documents. Are they too bold, too conservative? Does their place in our church fill you with joy, excitement, happiness, boredom, frustration, listlessness, sadness, or an uncomfortable mixture of all the above?

I found sitting with these stories and documents hard work. These documents are part of what drew me to the Uniting Church, yet the experience of my own guilt, shame, and fragility rose to the surface so readily – almost like a reflex. It made me feel ugly and it felt wrong, but I had to keep reminding myself that processing these thoughts and feelings is the work of dismantling white supremacy, it is the work of decolonising our church.

Now that we have these documents, and this relationship with Congress, many want to treat our work as individuals, communities, and as an institution to be done. It is not. This work is forever ongoing and important to be vigilant about as individuals, communities, and institutions.

We have the work of Reconciliation, National Treaty, Closing the Gap, opposing incarceration rates, protesting Aboriginal deaths in custody, opposing the ongoing and systemic displacement of Aboriginal kids from their families, and much more to do.

That feels overwhelming, but there’s a simple place for us to start as recommended by Assembly: do an Acknowledgement of Country in your meetings, and in your services. Every time. Complete a Covenanting Action Plan in your faith community, and look for ways to support our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family in meaningful ways.

You could also tithe to Congress WA as individuals and as a faith community, you could volunteer some time and skills to support Congress WA, you could stop and think before speaking about our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family and ensure what you’re saying is coming from a place of genuine love and respect.

Chittering is a beautiful corner of our state, I encourage you to journey to it. And I encourage you and your faith  community to journey on the road alongside our gracious family in Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress.

We are so lucky to be welcome on this land, and in such a unique relationship with its First Nation Peoples in our church.

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