Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware this story contains images of deceased persons.
Renewing the Covenant almost 30 years on
April 27, 2022
Almost 30 years after the Covenant statement between the Uniting Church in Australia and Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) was first signed, this binding commitment at the heart of the UCA will be renewed in worship at the upcoming reconvened 16th Assembly meeting.
Uniting Church President Rev Sharon Hollis will lead a liturgy of renewal together with UIACC Chairperson Rev Mark Kickett on Friday 6 May, where members will be invited to reflect on the meaning of the Covenant and the 1994 Covenanting Statement will be read.
Rev Hollis said the act is both a confession and a celebration.
“It invites us again to place the work of covenanting at the heart of our life as a Church affirming the sovereignty of First Nations people, to celebrate their achievements, joy, and strength, and to be serious about facing the truth of the church’s ongoing participation in colonisation.”
“It means listening to and acting on the wisdom of First Nations People and supporting Congress to be self-determining in their ministry.”
The renewal of the Covenant is the next significant moment in a long journey of walking together as First and Second Peoples spanning 40 years. It begins many years before a formal Covenant was made, with gatherings of Aboriginal and Islander Christians from across Australia in the early 1980s. It was their visionary leadership which led to the formation of a National Congress – a First Peoples Church and movement within the Uniting Church in Australia.
In 1985, the Uniting Church Assembly unanimously welcomed the formation of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress. It was the same year the Uniting Church declared itself to be a multicultural church. Nine years later, in 1994, the formal Covenant between the Uniting Church and UAICC came into being.
Since then, this Covenantal relationship has sat at the heart of Uniting Church identity and of what it means to be a uniquely Australian church.
The time between the birth of Congress and the renewal of the Covenant has had several key markers as we have sought to stand together in First Peoples’ struggle for justice and be a public voice for reconciliation between First and Second Peoples in Australia.
12 years before the Australian Government apology in 2008, the Uniting Church Assembly affirmed a formal apology made by the Assembly Standing Committee to the Stolen Generations in 1997 and acknowledged the Church’s complicity in intergenerational harm and trauma.
In 2009 the Preamble to the Uniting Church Constitution was revised to acknowledge Aboriginal and Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia and the lamentable colonial history of injustice, violence and dispossession. It affirms that First Peoples were nurtured and sustained by God before colonisation.
Inspired by a movement of the Spirit at the 13th Assembly in 2012, the whole Uniting Church was called to a week of prayer and fasting for the first time in 2013. This led the following year to a gathering on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra where hundreds from across the country prayed together for First Peoples’ justice. This was at a time when the injustices of the so-called Northern Territory Intervention were firmly in the background.
Building on fundamental affirmations in the Revised Preamble, and after many years of reflection on sovereignty and treaty, the 15th Assembly in 2018 affirmed the unceded, unextinguished sovereignty of First Peoples and endorsed the Statement from the Heart.
It was also in 2018 that the Assembly agreed to mark a national Day of Mourning each year on the Sunday before Australia Day which invites Uniting Church communities to reflect on the truth of our shared history.
The renewing of the Covenant sits within the Assembly’s Covenanting Action Plan 2021-2024 which gives shape and focus to the Covenant in the work of the national council.
Rev Hollis hopes the renewing of the Covenant will also give renewed energy to local relationships between First and Second Peoples where commitments to covenanting, truth-telling, justice and healing might be lived out at the grassroots.
“I hope it is an invitation for those congregations and communities that have relationships with First Nations people to deepen that relationship, and for those that don’t, to consider how they might respectfully explore the possibility of developing connections with a local First Nations community or organisation.”
The reconvened Assembly meeting will also feature Bible studies to led by students and teachers from Nungalinya College as members are invited to learn about indigenous spiritualities and theologies.
The Welcome to Country and Friday night worship which will involve the renewing of the Covenant will be available for the wider Uniting Church to watch via livestream on the 16th Assembly webpage and Uniting Church in Australia Facebook page. Join at 7:30pm AEST (QLD, NSW, ACT, VIC, and TAS), 7pm ACST (SA and NT) and 5.30pm AWST (WA).
You can watch the Assembly Bible Studies by livestream at 9:00am AEST on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8 May.