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The National Apology: A Time for Prayer and Reflection

February 22, 2008

 

Tod & Ana Gobledale - Australia

This week has marked a very special historic event in Australia.  On Wednesday, 13 February, the Australian Federal Government made a formal apology to the Aboriginal people, specifically those in the Stolen Generations.  We hope you will share in this hopeful occasion, and celebrate with the people of Australia during your worship time this Sunday and in the weeks to come.  We have cut and paste several resources below, including the text of Prime Minister Rudd's apology.

From Merryl Blair Conference President and Paul Cameron Conference Executive Officer

Victoria-Tasmania Conference, Churches of Christ in Australia

We rejoice at the spirit of reconciliation that has been shared this week in the Federal Parliament. It is important to remember the long journey that has taken place since Captain Cook landed in Australia and stated "there is not a person living in the land." It took until the 1960s before our Indigenous people were granted rights as a people. Throughout that time, and still today, there have been many injustices that have taken place. Past Australian governments adopted laws that gave warrant to practices resulting in many Indigenous children being inappropriately and forcibly removed from their families. It was a complex tragedy.  Often it was done with the thought that it was the best course of action at the time, but hindsight has shown us that this was not a fair, respectful or compassionate thing to do.  Hence, the fundamental truth of the stories of the Stolen Generations, and their pain, cannot be denied.  As a way of showing that Christian Churches were walking with our Indigenous people, in July 2000, Heads of Churches (including Churches of Christ) gathered in worship and prayer and signed the following Common Statement of Commitment:

Acknowledging the injustices that characterized the history of this country since 1788, and reaffirming our apology to Indigenous people for our shortcomings and past mistakes, the faith communities of Australia make the following promise: We will do all we can to secure a fair go for indigenous Australians. We will act to put right continuing injustices. We will work together to heal our nation's hurts. Inspired by our spiritual heritage, we pledge ourselves to work for the vision of a united Australia that respects this land of ours, and values the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage, and provides justice and equity for all.

As we work through the implications of the apology from the Federal Government (the Prime Minister's Apology Motion are included below) we urge churches to remember those among us who have worked so hard towards reconciliation; to reflect deeply on how we as Churches of Christ in Vic/Tas can, with our elected leaders, be part of a mutual ministry of reconciliation; and to continue to pray for justice for our Indigenous people, for reconciliation and for healing. The following prayers could help you do this in one of your services this coming Sunday. The prayers have been sourced from the National Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander Ecumenical Commission.

God of all peoples, in Jesus Christ You call us from our foolishness to be your children, coming amongst us like a kookaburra, singing the song of a new day.  Give us that same spirit of solidarity that was in Christ Jesus that we may bear your easy yoke, casting our burdens upon you, and resting in your love.  In the power of the Holy Spirit, who leads us all into a new future. Amen

Almighty and loving God, you who created ALL people in your image, Lead us to seek your compassion as we listen to the stories of our past. You gave your only Son, Jesus, who died and rose again so that sins will be forgiven. We place before you the pain and anguish of dispossession of land, language, love, culture and family kinship that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have experienced. We live in faith that all people will rise from the depths of despair and hopelessness. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families have endured the pain and loss of loved ones, through the separation of children from their families. We are sorry and ask your forgiveness. Touch the hearts of the broken, homeless and inflicted and heal their spirits. In your mercy and compassion, walk with us as we continue our journey of healing to create a future that is just and equitable. Lord, you are our hope. Amen.

Text of PM Rudd's Apology Motion

Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history. We reflect on their past mistreatment. We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations - this blemished chapter in our nation's history. The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future. We apologize for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologize especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country. For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry. To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry. We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation. For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written. We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians. A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again. A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non- Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity. A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed. A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility. A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia. This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2008/02/12/1202760291188.html

Following is a prayer for healing and renewal from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission of the National Council of Churches Australia:

"God of all peoples in Jesus Christ
You call us from our foolishness to be your children
coming amongst us like a kookaburra singing the song of a new day.

Give us that same spirit of solidarity which was in Christ Jesus
that we may bear Your easy yoke
casting our burdens upon You
and resting in Your love.

In the power of the Holy Spirit
who leads us all into a new future. Amen

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) has produced a range of resources for the community, schools, journalists and historians, supporting HREOC's watershed Bringing The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) has produced a range of resources for the community, schools, journalists and historians, supporting HREOC's watershed them home report of 1997.  The resources include Us Taken-Away Kids, a magazine launched in late 2007 commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Bringing them home report. The magazine represents artwork and stories from members of the 'Stolen Generations' throughout Australia, and serves as a testament to the resilience of Aboriginal people and their ability to triumph in the face of despair.  There is also the recently - updated Bringing them home education module: Learning about the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and their families ; which has additional activities that complement the Us Taken-Away Kids magazine, and of course the Bringing them home report itself.

HREOC's online resources also include:

  • the Bringing them home report Community Guide (1997);
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the 'stolen children' and the Inquiry;
  • personal stories from the report;
  • the Sorry FAQ by Reconciliation Australia;
  • content of apologies by state and territory Parliaments; and
  • 'From Dispossession to Reconciliation' by John Gardiner-Garden, Australian Parliamentary Library Research Paper series (1999).

All resources can be located at www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/bth_report/

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The following is an article from "The Australian Christian"  at  http://www.australianchristian.org.au/index.php?art/id:994

ACCIM: Apology And Ongoing Mission By : Avon Moyle - Australian Churches of Christ Indigenous Ministries (ACCIM)

The apology to the Stolen Generation has been made by our Prime Minister. Before a packed House of Representatives, Mr. Rudd delivered a masterly speech in which he apologized to the Stolen Generation on behalf of the Parliament of Australia and promised to address the pain and suffering of those affected by past policies.  He gave a commitment to work with indigenous people so that that the injustices of the past must never happen again, resolved to work towards a future based on mutual respect, and mutual responsibility, while addressing the injustices and the "gap" caused by past policies.  It was an apology and a commitment that was welcomed by indigenous people.  It remains a challenge for our nation, and our churches, to work towards implementing those things that will usher in new opportunities for indigenous people.

Almost immediately there was a backlash from some quarters.  To me that is sad, but has made me all the more determined to work towards true reconciliation. While it was a National Apology, it remains for individuals to play their part.  It is only as we as individuals "walk a mile" in the shoes of those who have suffered under past policies, that we will really understand how they were affected and disadvantaged.

For over 30 years my wife and I have worked with indigenous people and have been enriched beyond measure by that experience.  Along the way we have heard stories from our friends and fellow workers of their childhood experiences that have deeply saddened us.  We are committed to working with them as they in turn minister to their own people.

On Sunday 10th February we were privileged to attend a service at the Dianella Church of Christ in suburban Perth.  The pastor, Barry Ryall, had arranged for Len Wallam to speak of his experiences as one who grew up in the era when he was warned not to speak his Nyoongar Language for fear of being taken away from his family.  Len later preached  the sermon.  During the service he and Natarsha Bell stood on the platform and members of the congregation who wished to say "sorry" to them were asked to come forward and do so.  It was a very moving and powerful moment.  Apologies were offered and accepted.  There were many tears from both men and women, and a genuine outpouring of emotion as members later engaged Len and Natarsha in conversation at morning tea.

Churches of Christ through ACCIM, the State Conferences and National Council, were amongst the first of the churches to apologize for the sad experiences suffered by some  during our many years of childcare.  ACCIM has since made all of its childcare records available to the Government Dept. in Perth which has responsibility for their collection and preservation.  Those records are being accessed on many occasions.  Churches of Christ through ACCIM were the first of the churches in WA to make those records available.  Deslee Moyle has since collected and preserved over 9000 photos of children and mission life.  That is a priceless asset that will increasingly be accessed.  We could tell many stories concerning the outpouring of emotions as people have viewed those photos in our lounge room, at mission re-unions and Link Up conferences.

On two occasions the ACCIM Board invited the late Sir Ronald Wilson to address members on his experiences and findings as the one who headed up the Bringing Them Home Enquiry.  Churches of Christ through ACCIM made both oral and written submissions to that enquiry.  On another occasion Fred Chaney, a former Federal Aboriginal Affairs in the Fraser Government, and now a Reconciliation Commissioner, was our guest.  He began his address by saying that "in the field of indigenous affairs, Churches of Christ have punched above their weight."  Max Wright and Len Wallam represent Churches of Christ on two significant ecumenical bodies within Australia, NATSIEC and NATSICA.  Len Wallam and his team continue their work of preserving their Nyoongar Language through the translation of Scripture portions, with the support of several churches and individuals.  A recently retired senior chaplain in a Perth hospital told me at a seminar two years ago that, "the churches over the years have done a lot for indigenous people, but Churches of Christ have done a great deal with them."  The difference is significant.  I mention these things simply to make the point that ACCIM is committed to the reconciliation process in its several forms.  We are working today in a vital partnership with some of the finest indigenous pastors, amongst young people, in several small prisons, in ongoing teaching programs and the support of those doing theological studies.  We are currently working with others in WA to establish short term mission trips into some of the communities in the north of the state along the lines of overseas trips made by many in our churches.

As important as that is, saying sorry is not an end in itself.  It ushers in opportunities to extend our ministry partnership with our churches and the indigenous pastors into new avenues of service.  We invite your participation and ongoing support.

Avon Moyle (Director - ACCIM).

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Ana & Tod Gobledale



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