Since 2019 the Uniting Church has marked a Day of Mourning to reflect on the dispossession of Australia’s First Peoples and the ongoing injustices faced by First Nations people in this land. For those of us who are Second Peoples from many lands, we lament that we were and remain complicit.
The observance of a Day of Mourning on the Sunday before 26 January arises from a request from the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) which was endorsed by the 15th Assembly in 2018. Since then, many Congregations have held worship services that reflect on the effects of invasion, colonisation and racism on First Peoples. This year, that will take place on 22 January.
The Uniting Church acknowledges that our predecessors in the denominations which joined in 1977 to form the Uniting Church have been “complicit in the injustice that resulted in many of the First Peoples being dispossessed from their land, their language, their culture and spirituality, becoming strangers in their own land”. That itself is a cause for lament and mourning.
The Uniting Church also recognises that people in these churches “were largely silent as the dominant culture of Australia constructed and propagated a distorted version of history that denied this land was occupied, utilised, cultivated and harvested by these First Peoples who also had complex systems of trade and inter-relationships”.
The quotations above come from the Revised Preamble to the Constitution of the Uniting Church in Australia, adopted in 2009, which can be read in full at https://resources.uca.org.au/images/stories/Regulations/2018/2018_Constitution__Regulations.pdf
Resources prepared for worship on 22 January 2023 include a statement by the Rev. Sharon Hollis, President of the UCA, and the Rev. Mark Kickett, the Interim National Chair Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress. In this statement, they observe that “The Day of Mourning invites us to listen to the truth of the effects of colonisation and racism on First Peoples and to hope that in confronting this truth we will discover ways to create communities of justice and healing.”
They continue, “In marking the Day of Mourning, we live into our covenant relationship to stand together with, and listen to, the wisdom of First Nations people in their struggle for justice. We affirm the sovereignty of First Peoples and honour their culture and their connection to country.”
This quotation, and others following, come from https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/Day-of-Mourning-2023_finalmin.pdf
The covenant referred to by the President and the Interim Congress Chair was made by the National Assembly in 1994. It signals the Uniting Church’s commitment to stand with our First Nations brothers and sisters in Christ in their struggle for justice. The story of entering into this relationship with First Peoples and ongoing developments that have occurred since 1994 is told at https://uniting.church/covenanting/
The Uniting Church is firmly committed to Giving Voice, Telling Truth, Talking Treaty, which was the theme of the 2019 NAIDOC WEEK, picking up from the 2017 Statement from the Heart. This theme was the focus of a consensus decision of the 2019 meeting of the Synod of NSW and the ACT, to enact a series of proposals to give support to the theme of Giving Voice, Telling Truth, Talking Treaty; see
The Synod now has a comprehensive Reconciliation Action Plan and a webpage with links to many resources to support this commitment; see https://nswact.uca.org.au/first-nations-resources
The 2023 worship resources invite worshippers to begin with an Acknowledgement of First Peoples which draws from the Revised Preamble, affirming that “God nurtured and sustained the First Peoples of this country, the Aboriginal and Islander peoples” and that “the Spirit was already in the land, revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony”. The Acknowledgement invites worshippers to respond by affirming that they “honour [First Peoples] for their custodianship of the land on which we gather today” and that they “rejoice the reconciling purposes of God found in the good news about Jesus Christ”.
These are fundamental theological affirmations which undergird both our present respect for First Peoples, and our understanding that a relationship with and an understanding of God are not limited to western Christian perceptions of the divine. Indeed, as we have accepted within Christianity that the God we know in Jesus was active in relationship with human beings for many centuries before the time of Jesus—through the covenant with the people of Israel—so we can agree that God was in relationship with the peoples of the continent we call Australia and the islands which surround it.
The worship resources include an Invitation to Truth-Telling—something that is now recognised as integral to the process of reconciliation that is essential within Australian society. In words written by Alison Overeem, Manager of Leprena—UAICC in Tasmania: “We are called to justice in the mourning, not just for today but all that weeps from today. All that sits in the layers of mourning, embedded in the trail of injustice … of removal … of dispossession … of stolen land … of stolen children … of stolen identity”. The Invitation continues by encouraging us, “in the mourning, let us look to the love that calls us to seek out and speak out against injustice”.
That truth-telling was at the heart of decisions at the 2015 Assembly, to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, and at the 2018 Assembly, to recognise the sovereignty of the First Peoples. See
A Prayer of Lament in the worship resources recognises “the way in which their land was taken from them and their language, culture, law and spirituality despised and suppressed”, and laments “the way in which the Christian church was so often not only complicit in this process but actively involved in it”.
The Prayers of the People begins with the petition, “give us the courage to accept the realities of our history so that we may build a better future for our nation”—for that is the purpose of the Day of Mourning, of the annual Reconciliation Week, and of the ongoing commitment of the Uniting Church to “live out the covenant into which we, the First and Second Peoples of this land, have entered with one another.”
The closing Word of Mission in the 2023 worship resources continues: “Confront and challenge injustice wherever you see it. Act justly yourselves and insist that others do the same. Rejoice in the richness of our diverse cultures and learn from them. Celebrate and demonstrate the unity we share in Jesus our Lord. Commit to worship, witness and serve as one people under God, Until God’s promised reconciliation of all creation is complete.”
The resource ends with links to appropriate contemporary songs and children’s stories, and suggestions for craft activities within worship on 22 January.