Living the Covenant Locally: Your story
July 6, 2022
Living the Covenant Locally is an invitation for Second Peoples of our Church to engage in deep listening, learning, action and meaningful connection with First Peoples. No matter where you are in your covenanting journey, there is a range of written and multimedia resources to help grow your understanding or take action. Leura Uniting Church and retired Deacon Rev Bill Harris are among some of the first UCA people and communities to sign on. We tell some of their stories below.
Signing up for Living the Covenant Locally is another step along the covenanting journey for Leura Uniting Church in the Blue Mountains. Gathering on the lands of the Dharug and Gundungurra people, it has an active Covenanting Group and has had the privilege of yarning with local communities.
Minister Rev Myung Hwa Park says she hopes Living the Covenant Locally will help them to deepen existing connections and partnerships that have already been made with local First Nations communities.
Myung Hwa says her own covenanting journey started when she served as the Moderator of the Synod of NSW/ACT (from 2014-2017) and had the opportunity to co-Chair Synod meetings alongside regional UAICC leaders.
“We were sharing understanding, sharing power, sharing the experience. An intentional journey started for me from them on. I committed myself to learn more about the UAICC and attended UAICC regional council meetings.”
Her ministry took her to Arnhem Land and then back to the mid North Coast where she found there were active Aboriginal communities the Church was not engaging.
“I think that God is calling us to respond and be involved with the work of reconciliation beyond as well as within the Church. God is working outside our walls.”
“My own experience tells me how important it is to work with existing communities and groups that are seeking justice and looking to make these connections.”
She found in the Leura congregation a community with strong commitments to reconciliation. Together they set up a Covenanting Group which helps the congregation participate in important events like Reconciliation Week, NAIDOC Week and the Uniting Church’s Day of Mourning. It is also nurturing meaningful connections with local Elders.
In May this year it arranged its first Walking on Country with local Dharug and Gundungurra Elder Aunty Carol Cooper and Biripi Elder Aunty Ali Golding. Expecting it would be only a small group, the congregation extended the invitation to others in the community. More than 60 people turned up, including local Councillors. Another walk is planned and will focus on women’s business.
Rev Park hopes that Living the Covenant Locally might prompt some thinking about how to make a Christian response to pain in the lived experience of First Peoples.
“When we were walking on Country we heard a lot of sad stories. Aunty Cooper told us a story about how a First Nations burial ground for children was bulldozed to make way for a racecourse to be built in the 1950s. Such devastation. How to lament this? We need liturgy and rituals to bring healing. So I am looking at those possibilities.”
She also hopes that Living the Covenant Locally will be another important resource for people as they commit – or continue – the long journey of covenanting with its joys and challenges.
“I have learned that covenanting is not something you can just do overnight. It’s a waiting game. It’s about trust and relationships, so it takes patience and perseverance.”
“Getting to know local communities and Aboriginal leaders, mutual learning, building trust and nurturing relationships. These are the real joys and the work of covenanting.”
See some photos from Leura Uniting Church below.
Retired Deacon Rev Bill Harris has also signed on to Living the Covenant Locally. Rev Bill has a long history of relationship with First Peoples and is passionate about the covenant at the heart of the Uniting Church.
Bill’s first experience of walking with and alongside First Peoples was as Circuit Assistant in the Methodist Church in Port Augusta in 1965. One of his roles was chaplain to the local community in the sandhills. From 1977-79, he worked with the Aboriginal Advisory Development Service of the Northern Synod as a resident Community Adviser in the Warruwi Community in Arnhem Land. He spent a further six years in the Northern Synod where he was in contact with the people in Central Australia and in the APY Lands.
In these roles, Bill says he came to understand the challenges facing First Peoples and he gained a personal appreciation for the stories they seek to share with Second Peoples.
“I often say, you can only really appreciate the relationship First Peoples have with the land when you have had the opportunity to walk on it with them and been able to sit and listen to their stories.”
Bill says while there is good will towards First Peoples in many churches, people are yet to fully grasp the loss of land rights, the ongoing impacts of colonisation and hurt caused in the celebration of Australia Day.
“I seek to raise awareness and share my story in the hope that others will have a greater appreciation of our covenant relationship and will seek opportunities to develop closer caring and supportive relationships with our First Australians,” said Bill.
Bill and his wife Margaret have recently joined Prospect Uniting Church in South Australia. Acknowledgement of Country is a regular part of their worship and they will mark NAIDOC Week in their worship this week.