Why We Acknowledge First Peoples

Some people have criticised the ritual  in which worship services are begun with an acknowledgment of the First Peoples. This practice stems directly from the belief that the church has a responsibility to carry a message of love and reconciliation to the people of this land, and was the subject of a resolution of the 4th Assembly in 1995.

As an expression of the covenant into which the Uniting Church in Australia has entered with the United Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, and the amended form of the Preamble to our Constitution, it is appropriate to include an “Acknowledgement of First Peoples” at the commencement of worship services, meetings of Boards, Councils and Committees, and other occasions when the church gathers.

A recent issue of Crosslight contained an article on the final message of the 14th President of the Uniting Church, Stuart McMillan, which I reprint in part here:

In his final national message the 14th President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan has urged Church members to address the “unfinished business” of sovereignty and Treaty for First Peoples.

“I started my presidency with the Yolŋu words Bala limurr roŋyirr ŋorraŋgitjlil – ‘Let us return to the white ashes of the fire’,” Mr McMillan said.

“It was a call to reflect on the way all the people of God, First and Second Peoples have been sustained by the Holy Spirit in their own way.

“I continue to invite Church members to consider what it would mean for the practices of our Church to honour First Peoples as sovereign in this land and what it means to stand with them in their pursuit of just terms treaties.

“The conversation continues and the movement for Treaty is stirring again as the ashes of my time are cooling.

“I pray that the Holy Spirit will rekindle the embers of the work done by both First and Second Peoples over the last three years so that we can together strive to achieve a more just church and nation.”

The theme Mr McMillan chose for his triennium as President was Hearts on Fire.

A proposal to the 15th Assembly in July will ask the Uniting Church to affirm that the First Peoples of Australia, the Aboriginal and Islander Peoples, are sovereign peoples in this land.

“The love of Christ shared in all these relationships, these fellowships of reconciliation, is life-giving,” he said.

Quoting from Hebrews 10:24 Mr McMillan urged Uniting Church members to fellowship wherever they may be.

“Beloved, let us continue to ‘consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, but encouraging one another’,” he said.

“In your place you are Church, you are called to be a fellowship of reconciliation to shine the love and light of Jesus in your communities. I have been deeply blessed to share with many of you the ways in which you have been led to do this.”

Given that it take only a small effort and a short time to honour the Aboriginal caretakers of this land, and given the gross indignities and injustices perpetrated upon them by our Anglo-Saxon forebears over many generations, keeping this memory alive is the least we can do as Jesus’ representatives to foster reconciliation among all people in Australia.

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