Walking Together begins in the heart
June 8, 2022
Walking together as First and Second Peoples is a journey that is begins with the heart – it is not only seen, but lived and felt. This began the learnings in an online discussion hosted by the Panel of the Assembly’s Walking Together as First and Second Peoples Circle on 2 June.
Panel Member Nathan Tyson, an Aboriginal man of Anaiwon/Gomeroi descent, chaired the conversation held as part of National Reconciliation Week. He began by acknowledging the sovereign First Peoples of the lands and waters from where participants across the country joined the meeting.
Advocate of the Circle Alison Overeem, a proud Palawa woman, began with a reflection on the UCA’s covenant relationship with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC), and what it practically looks like to walk together as First and Second Peoples.
“We don’t just know the covenant, we live it, we are it. Imagine for a moment, that we as First Peoples can walk, culturally safe, into any space that sits within the Uniting Church. Mina, I, would lakapawa (see) and I would feel that any space honours First Peoples ancient knowledge and wisdom, and acknowledges stolen land, acknowledges invasion, colonisation and removal, and acknowledges a call to reconcile.”
Panel Member Joy Han shared how learning about and walking on country had transformed and enlivened her own faith experience.
Joy said listening and learning from First Peoples had prompted her to reflect on the experience of colonisation in Korea in her grandmother’s generation. Making these connections had enabled her to understand in a new way the labels and accusations given to and the dispossession of First Nations People that continues in Australia today.
“I would really encourage any Second Peoples who have their own histories of being colonised to just do a little bit of imagining and consider that as a way to approach and see themselves as part of this journey.”
“If First Nations sovereign peoples of this land are still crying out for justice and saying ‘listen to us, there are too many times when we feel culturally unsafe’, then nobody is culturally safe. We need to reimagine a much more expansive (understanding of) multiculturalism. This idea of walking together is really powerful way for us to explore that.”
Rev Jennie Gordon, another Panel Member, spoke about the need for Second Peoples to look beyond themselves.
“We need to understand as a Church, what do we actually mean by walking together? Are we as colonisers inviting First Nations people to join us on a walk we have already begun?”
“I think at the heart of it, there's a theological imperative that if we call ourselves an Australian church, then walking together needs to be at the heart of that.”
“In the grace of First Peoples even inviting me to these kinds of conversations is this idea that I have to be willing to walk forward and to stumble, and I have to be willing to keep stumbling.”
Jenny recalled an experience of Walking on Country led by Alison in Lutruwita (Tasmania).
“It was a beautiful experience on her Country that was so rich and full of incredible stories. And there was a powerful metaphor in us as Second Peoples walking behind Alison while she talked and showed and explained, or even in the silence, just continuing to walk together.”
“There's a naivety that our Second Peoples bring to this experience of walking together that is always open to the wonder of what our First Peoples can teach us about what it means to be an Australian church.”
UAICC Interim National Chair Rev Mark Kickett joined the conversation, giving thanks for people across the Church committed to walking together. He reflected on the importance of story:
“We are a people of stories, we love our stories, we are good storytellers. We know there is a story that talks about the impact of colonisation. And then, we have our own stories that we share, like the walking together on Country, Alison shares that, as does our Ngarrindjeri people, our Noongar people around here, our mob on the Northern Rivers and Adnyamathanha Country.”
“There’s storytelling all the way through and it talks about a journey of connection. In and through the colonial story and our own individual story, there has been a clash or a crossroads. But now there is an opportunity for a new story, and that story is a shared story. It's our collective story that we can write together.”
“Prior to this, there was a denial of our humanity. We did not matter. So rather than looking back in, in sympathy and sorrow, and victimisation, this new story allows us to begin a new journey. One that's full of respect, and of listening. That is a heart changer for all of us.”
Participants shared local examples of walking together and time was spent reflecting on what a culturally safe Uniting Church looked like. Examples were given such as having an Acknowledgment of Country or a Welcome to Country in worship, flying the Aboriginal flag, working with local First Peoples to develop artwork or yarning spaces, recording First Peoples stories, removing colonial language from worship and acknowledging in a visible way that the church building sits on stolen land.
However, the most important aspect of walking together was relationship and connection.
“The value of developing relationships cannot be underestimated. Really, that's what is at the heart of all of this, developing effective and good trust relationships,” said Nathan.
“If you've got a good trust relationship, you can achieve many, many, many things.”
“There's the physical stuff you can do but if a Black fella walks into the church and feels that everyone is looking at them, and thinking, ‘why are you here?’, they will feel that. So, it is physical signs of welcome but it’s also emotional and feeling love and welcome.”
Rev Dr Chris Budden, author of Why Indigenous Sovereignty should matter to Christians, joined the conversation, offering his encouragement to Second Peoples to think more deeply about the debt owed to First Peoples.
“I want to encourage us to remember in this walk together that the resources provided by the Church to First Peoples is not a gift. It's actually reparation. It's the paying the rent. It’s making up for the fact that as Second Peoples, we were colonial participants. We were allies of colonialism. And this is reparation for our role. When we do budgets and we try to cut everybody the same, I think we need to remember that finances given to First Peoples is a debt. You don’t cut debts.”
“My second encouragement is that in local congregations we need to wrestle more seriously with the need to pay the rent. It’s not big amounts of money. It’s in large part a relationship building acknowledgement and an act of honesty that we have a church that is on Aboriginal land and we need to pay the rent.”
In wrapping up the conversation Alison encouraged all to think about the changes we can make.
“Think about what will really change in the sharing and the growing. What change will you make as an individual? What pledge to change will be your call to justice? We have come a long way but our journey is just beginning to gather in the ripples of the river together. Let justice run on like a river!”
During National Reconciliation Week, the Assembly and the Circle launched a new initiative for local UCA communities called Living the Covenant Locally. Find out more here: https://uniting.church/livingthecovenantlocally/
To find out more about or join the Circle, go here: https://uniting.church/walkingtogether/
Watch a recording of the online discussion on the link below.