A vision and legacy

The Markers in our Covenant Journey

For First Peoples the ‘songlines’ that stretch across the breadth and depth of this ancient land connect the peoples and places, their law, and the creation stories told, painted and sung by the ancestors from the Creator Spirit. Listen now as this story is sung.

In 1982 at Crystal Creek, just north of Townsville, First Peoples came together, Christian leaders from across Australia with some Māori leaders. Guided by the Spirit they discerned they would sing a ‘Black Congress’ into being - a First Peoples movement, within the UCA.

Then in 1983, these leaders and others gathered again at Galiwin’ku, on Elcho Island in North East Arnhemland in the Northern Territory. They came together and resolved to form the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC). Rev. Charles Harris was the leader with Rev. Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM his deputy.

Charles spoke of holistic evangelism. By this he meant both arms of the cross. One (the vertical) pointing to God – they would preach the good news of Jesus Christ; the second (the horizontal), arm outstretched to the community to embrace a hurting people in love, to seek justice and to care for their physical needs.

The 1982 Assembly of the UCA resolved to stand together in solidarity with First Peoples and not to celebrate the Australian bi-centennial unless there were significant changes for First Peoples in the advancement of land rights. But sadly, lamentably, in 1985 the next national Assembly meeting reversed the decision, causing much pain.

The same 1985 Assembly formally recognised the formation of UAICC. However, this was perceived as a hollow recognition because of the failure to stand with UAICC as previously determined.

In 1988 Charles Harris organised and led a protest rally and march beginning in the Sydney Domain with prayer. Thousands of people, First and Second Australians, Christians and others, joined in solidarity, including the then President of the UCA. This story is now captured in the book: Charles Harris - A Struggle for Justice, by Rev. Dr William Emilsen (2018, MediaCom).

At the Assembly meeting in 1994, the relationship between the UAICC and UCA was formalised in an act of Covenant under God with the exchange of statements and UAICC gifting a sacred painting telling a story of restored relationship after a serious dispute between peoples.

In 1996, the UCA Assembly Standing Committee (ASC) acknowledged the intergenerational harm and trauma it was complicit in and apologised to people of the Stolen Generations who had been under this government policy under our care. In 1997 the full Assembly affirmed the ASC Acknowledgement and Apology recognising other places where the Church had housed people under these policies. The UCA committed herself to further actions of advocacy and restitution.

These Stolen Generations admissions, apologies and commitments came many years before the Australian Parliament offered its Apology.

A new Preamble to the UCA Constitution was resolved at the Assembly in 2009. This Preamble recognised the sins of the past and the Churches part in them.

Significantly, it also affirmed that God had been in this ancient land sustaining the First Peoples well before the colonisers arrived. At this Meeting there was great celebration for the declaration of these truths in the UCA’s foundational law.

In 2013, the Uniting Church called the whole Church to a week of prayer and fasting, the first time this had been done. A Destiny Together: a prayer vigil on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra brought together hundreds from across the nation and thousands more joining in prayer vigils in their home towns throughout the week to cry out to God for justice for First Peoples, in particular the injustices of the so-called Northern Territory Intervention.

The 2018 15th Assembly meeting affirmed First Peoples as Sovereign, offering moral leadership to the nation. This same meeting also endorsed the Statement from the Heart (2017) with its asks for a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament, Treaty negotiations and Truth telling. The ASC then appointed a Sovereignty Affirmation Task Group to look at the practical application of this affirmation.

The theological underpinning for this journey can be found in the Basis of Union, paragraph 3:

“The Church as the fellowship of the Holy Spirit confesses Jesus as Lord over its own life; it also confesses that Jesus is Head over all things, the beginning of a new creation, of a new humanity. God in Christ has given to all people in the Church the Holy Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation. The Church’s call is to serve that end.”