Change the heart – a call to action
In the week leading up to Australia Day on January 26, Aboriginal Christian leaders Aunty Jean Phillips and Brooke Prentis hosted 17 prayer meetings in every state and territory across Australia, including Canberra, Sydney, Wollongong, Newcastle, Berry, Melbourne, Darwin, Alice Springs, Perth, Melbourne East, Bendigo, Mornington Peninsula, Hobart, Launceston, Brisbane West End and the Gold Coast. The services were supported by Common Grace, a Christian movement of people from a range of denominations who are passionate about Jesus and justice. These annual prayer meetings give people the opportunity to stand in solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to lament the history of colonisation and to commit to action to deliver justice.
The theme this year was #ChangeTheHeart. Over 300 people attended a packed gathering at St John’s Church in Darlinghurst on January 21 to hear music, prayer, bible readings and compelling information about the massacres of the past and the health crises of the present. However, it was the sequence of brief but powerful speeches from Aunty Jean and Brooke Prentis that cut to the bone with their sense of urgency. They called on us to join with them and use our skills to redistribute the wealth of our nation and lift the First Australians out of poverty and into positions of shared power.
Aunty Jean and Brooke Prentis called us to action as individuals and church communities. “How is it that I can still walk into churches and meet people who do not know our Aboriginal history?” Aunty Jean said, challenging us to search our own hearts for the answer and to take responsibility for action to educate non-Aboriginal people. “Together we can change the heart of Australia. If we change our own hearts and the hearts of Christians, we can change the heart of our nation,” she said.
Brooke Prentis, the spokesperson for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Team at Common Grace, affirmed the core message that we all must act to deliver Treaty, Voice and Heart to achieve justice. “The history affects the past, the present and the future. There is a lack of action. We call on you to join us. Together we can deal with the history.”
The call to action was practical and informed by the injustice that so many Aboriginal people live in poverty. As Aunty Jean said bluntly: “Australia is rich and the churches are rich because you got your wealth through the theft of our land. Yet young Aboriginal people in ministry come to me for help to register their cars. You need to give money for Aboriginal ministry. Every church should adopt an Aboriginal person in ministry and support them financially. Set up scholarships for our young people to study. You need to invite Aboriginal Christian leaders to speak at conferences. Why do you invite so many international speakers when you have elders here? Invite us to your churches to speak. Get to know us. Your first duty is to the First Peoples of our country.”
Aunty Jean challenged the media people in the audience directly, as she stood side-by-side with two young Aboriginal women, one of whom was studying law: “Media people, get to know Aboriginal people. Don’t just talk to the same few people all the time. Get to know our young people and interview them.”
It was challenging and exciting to gather with so many people from Uniting, Anglican, Baptist and other faith communities and to engage directly with the many Aboriginal young people supporting Aunty Jean. I felt grateful that I could use social media and this newspaper to immediately spread their message about Treaty, Voice and Heart. Yet, there was one particular aspect of the meeting that cracked my heart right open. It was the deep and sincere belief in the power of prayer expressed by Aunty Jean. Aunty Jean spoke of her childhood on Cherbourg Mission in Queensland, where she was born over 80 years ago, and the powerful Christian leaders who shaped her faith. She has been in active ministry all her adult life and she still is. Her partnership with young Christian Aboriginal people, like Brooke Prentis, is energetic and inspiring. I left the church wanting to learn and do more.
If you’d like to learn more and get involved, go to Common Grace .