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“They stood like Statues, without motion, but grinn’d like so many Monkies.”

As a sign of respect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the first inhabitants of this continent and its islands, we need to change the date of our national day.

Since the colonisation of this land in 1788, white Australians have consistently and regularly demeaned and dishonoured the original inhabitants of the land, who had cared for the country over millenia. This isn’t “black armband” history, this is simply the reality of the early decades of white colonisation of the continent.

Even before the invasion of the colonisers, this dismissive and eracist attitude was evident. Early in January 1688, a century before the First Fleet arrived, a British ship, the Cygnet, under the command of pirate and buccaneer, Captain Charles Swan, set anchor off the coast of “New Holland”. On board was the sailor, author, and privateer, William Dampier (pictured), whose record of the journey of the Cygnet was published a decade later.

In that account, the English pirate Dampier describes the inhabitants of the land which he called New Holland, and which we know today as Australia. He takes care to describe the colour, appearance, clothing, dwellings, and habits of the people he encountered.

At one point, he makes a comment, in passing, which has had a striking and undesirable influence on the way that white Australians have regarded black Australians. He wrote: they stood like Statues, without motion, but grinn’d like so many Monkies, staring one upon another.

(This quotation is taken from A new voyage round the world: describing particularly, the isthmus of America, several coasts and islands in the West Indies … their soil, rivers, harbours, plants … Vol.I. By Captain William Dampier. Illustrated with particular maps and draughts. This is available online at https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dampier/william/new-voyage-round-the-world/index.html)

That looks, to us today, to be an incredibly racist comment. Most likely Dampier, reflecting the ethos of his time, would not have thought so. Nevertheless, this attitude towards the “primitive” “natives” he encountered, is reflected in subsequent writings by later explorers, and by the British settlers from 1788 onwards. (And it is still found in attitudes in the 21st century; witness the racism evident in the incident relating to Adam Goodes on the AFL field, a few years back.)

I have been reading about Dampier in an excellent new book by historian Nick Brodie, entitled 1787 (subtitled the lost chapters of Australia’s beginnings; see https://www.hardiegrant.com/au/publishing/bookfinder/book/1787-by-nick-brodie/9781743791608)

Brodie makes the point that what Dampier wrote had a strong influence on how James Cook and Joseph Banks described the inhabitants that they encountered decades later; and that their writings, in turn, influenced the approach and attitude of the British who colonised the land from 1788 onwards. They continually looked down on the people who had long inhabited the land before they came. (See https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/18/endeavour-by-every-possible-means-to-conciliate-their-affections/ and https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/20/we-never-saw-one-inch-of-cultivated-land-in-the-whole-country/)

Changing the date of Australia Day would be one small contribution to recognising the damage that has been done by such colonial, imperial attitudes. It would challenge us to move away from racist, paternalistic, demeaning attitudes and policies.

However, as I mentioned before (https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/16/the-profound-effect-of-invasion-and-colonisations/), along with changing the date of our national day, we need to work to change the culture of our country, so that we no longer tolerate racism, and so that the First Peoples of this continent and the surrounding islands can have an honoured and valued place at the centre of contemporary Australian society.

And that is the real challenge.

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“We never saw one inch of cultivated land in the whole country”

As a sign of respect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the first inhabitants of this continent and its islands, we need to change the date of our national day.

Early encounters between the inhabitants of the continent we know as Australia, and seafaring explorers sent by imperial European powers, set the scene for what took place when the British colonised the continent.

These early encounters failed to develop a deepened understanding of each group by the other. Journal records show instances of failed encounter, misunderstood communication, and skewed interpretation (on the part of the journaling explorers) of “the Natives”.

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“Endeavour by every possible means … to conciliate their affections”

As a sign of respect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the first inhabitants of this continent and its islands, we need to change the date of our national day.

On 26 January 1788, the commander of the First Fleet, Arthur Philip (pictures), placed the British flag into the soil of Sydney Cove. Journals of the time record that the British had already set foot on the land a week or so earlier, at Botany Bay. However, because Philip couldn’t find fresh water there, he sailed further north. In Sydney Cove, he found fresh water in the Tank Stream, and this determined the site of the first British settlement.

At the time, this settlement was an expression of colonial expansion, claiming a new colony as “Britannia ruled the waves”. Today, we can see that it was an act of colonial imperialism, with inherent violence at its heart and aggressive marginalisation of the inhabitants of the land.

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The profound effect of invasion and colonisation

This Sunday, 20 January, Uniting Churches around Australia will be holding services which focus on a Day of Mourning, ahead of a day later in the week (26 January) marked in many calendars as Australia Day.

These churches will be doing this in accord with the decision of the 15th Assembly of the UCA, held last year, “to request members to support a Day of Mourning to occur on the Sunday prior to 26th January each year, and to engage during worship services in activities such as reflection and discussion of the profound effect of invasion and colonisation on First Peoples” (see https://uniting.church/28-day-of-mourning/)

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15th Assembly

“When you suffer, the whole body of Christ suffers”

There’s been a new contribution, from North America, to the long-running and still ongoing discussion of the place of same-gender attracted people within the church. It’s from the the Bishops of the United Methodist Church (USA). (See http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/council-of-bishops-letter-to-the-global-lgbtq-community)

But first, before considering this, let me say something about the Uniting Church in Australia. Specifically, about the proposal made in the middle of last year, when the 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church had on its agenda a proposal to prepare an apology to LGBTIQ people from the church.

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15th Assembly

Affirmations we can make together

Last year, I posted a series of Affirmations relating to sexuality and same-gender attracted people, and their place in the church. These Affirmations were inspired by a summary that one of my colleagues made of various resolutions adopted by the National Assembly of the Uniting Church or its Standing Committee (thanks Avril). [You can read that post at https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/10/20/seven-affirmations/]

Recently, one of my colleagues commented that these Affirmations would make for a good creed (thanks Neil). I played with them for a bit, and came up with the series of Affirmations below. I think this sequence flows well and the key issues are identified.

I have kept pretty much the wording of the formal resolutions, although they are “tweaked” at some places, to make for a more amenable pattern for saying together in a liturgy. We have moved and developed in our understandings as a church, so the evolving language and ideas reflect that.

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15th Assembly

A Prayer for the Uniting Church in Australia

This Prayer from the President of the Uniting Church has been issued today, along with a Pastoral Letter advising that “the Assembly decision on marriage stands, and will continue to be lived out in our Church, in various faithful expressions”, and noting that the “broader focus [of the Church includes] the ways we can witness to God’s reconciling love, which is beyond measure and has power to transform people’s lives and the life of our society.”

A PRAYER FOR THE UNITING CHURCH IN AUSTRALIA

Written by President Dr Deidre Palmer

six months after the Fifteenth Assembly

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15th Assembly

So, what just happened? (An Explainer, Updated)

The last six months in the Uniting Church has been something of an intense roller-coaster, revolving around the issue of marriage. Our processes are somewhat idiosyncratic and, as events unfolded, matters came down to a rather arcane provision in the UCA Constitution.

I offered An Explainer about this process some months back. In light of more recent events, here is An Updated Explainer.

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Learning of the land (2): Ngunnawal, Namadgi and Ngarigo

So, now we are here in the Australian Capital Territory, to take up new opportunities in ministry. We live in a suburb named after an early Australian poet (Adam Lindsay Gordon), on a street named after an obscure Victorian racehorse trainer (Michael Holt). That strikes me as a curious juxtaposition, indeed.

In fact, all the streets in this suburb are named after Australian sports people. Some are well-known people from Australian sports history, like tennis player Harry Hopman, yachtsman Jock Sturrock, athletics coach Percy Cerutty, jockey Darby Munro, horse trainer Tommy Woodcock, footballer Jersey Flegg, and cricketers Jack Fingleton, Sid Barnes, Clem Hill and Bill Woodfull (captain in the Bodyline series).

A number, however, are obscure figures like Lewis Luxton (born in Australia—but he rowed for Great Britain in the 1932 Olympics), Clare Dennis (a swimmer who won gold at those same 1932 Olympics), Noel Ryan (another 1930s swimmer) and Fred Lane, whose name graces the intriguingly-named Fred Lane Crescent. (Fred was a swimmer in the early 1900s.)

But the region in which we live is named Tuggeranong—a word derived from one of the indigenous groups who lived in the area, the Toogoranoongh. And we live in a city named Canberra, quite possibly drawing on an indigenous word (Koyanberra, or Kanberri, or perhaps Gamberri) which means “meeting place”. Which is what it is today. It is the place where, in contemporary Australia, lawmakers from across the country gather on a regular basis to meet in parliament.

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Learning of the land (1): Eora, Biripi, Whadjuk Noongar

Earlier this year, I attended a national Uniting Church meeting where all of the participants were asked to introduce themselves by stating their name and their nominating body, and then by identifying the First People of the land on which they lived and/or worked.

I took a few liberties with the required formula, and introduced myself as “John Squires, from the Synod of Western Australia. I was born on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation; I rejoiced, for some years, to live and work amongst the Biripi people, on their lands, beside their waters; and currently live on the lands of the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation.”

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Perth Peacemaking Conference Statement

On the 10-11 November this year, more than 60 people gathered for the Perth Peacemaking Conference to coincide with the 100 year anniversary of the end of WW1. The Conference included an Interfaith Forum (pictured) with representatives from a range of religious faiths.

After the Conference, members of the Ecumenical Social Justice Roundtable agreed to issue a Statement which emerges from the material presented and discussed at the Conference. You can read the Statement below.

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To articulate faith contextually

“The ability to articulate faith contextually within our multifaith, in our multifaith, multicultural society, in covenant relationship with the First Peoples.”

I’m at a national gathering of theological educators who teach at the accredited Uniting Church colleges across the country. We are exploring, together, how we go about educating people within the church for discipleship and leadership, and forming people for ministry in the various ministries that we recognise in the Uniting Church (pastor, lay preacher, deacon, and minister of the word).

These words have been ringing in my ears for much of my time here. It’s one of the things that we say we want to achieve in forming people for ministry. What does it mean, though, “to articulate faith contextually”, in the kind of society that we are living in today?

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15th Assembly

Let your gentleness be known to everyone

Let your gentleness be known to everyone (Philippians 4:5)

I have been thinking in recent days about modes of speaking; ways of proclaiming deeply-held beliefs, ways of engaging in constructively and fruitfully with people who hold different opinions from me. Life these days in the church—and life these days in the public arena, with political debate and social media interaction—seems always to be challenging me, in the way I think about ideas, and speak with other people about those ideas.

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Blessed are the peacemakers

Elizabeth and I attended The Perth Peacemaking Conference today, being held to mark the centenary of the end of World War One. We heard the Gospel proclaimed with clarity and passion by our colleague, Chris Walker, during the morning Eucharist in the Anglican Cathedral. We listened to representatives of a range of religious faiths express how their faith informs their commitment to peace; people from Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Indigenous Australian, Baha’i, and Christianity (Quaker, Roman Catholic, Anglican and Uniting Church).

There was a good interchange of ideas. I jotted down some of the most striking and insightful comments made during the forum. Here’s my top twelve.
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Pondering peace, worrying about war

It’s 100 years, this weekend, since The Armistice was signed to end The War to End All Wars. In theory, that meant that war would end, and peace would prevail. It is an important moment, to recall that event, and to assess the consequences. Sadly, it has not been a century of peace; far from it.

So, this weekend, I am pondering peace, and worrying about war.

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Affirming the Teachings of Jesus

“The teachings of Jesus were a bit of an embarrassment to the [4th century] church and its relationship with power. The creeds which were developed at that time say almost nothing about the real life of Jesus or his teachings. Jesus is a saviour figure rather than one whose life and teachings matter.”

Chris Budden, Why Indigenous Sovereignty Should Matter To Christians (page 62).

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15th Assembly

Seven Affirmations

In the light of the debates and discussions about human sexuality over the past 18 months in Australia society …
and, in particular, in the light of the recent letter from the Assembly General Secretary of the Uniting Church, regarding the decision of the Assembly about marrying people of the same gender …
I want to offer the seven affirmations below to my LGBTIQ friends and colleagues, and to the allies who are seeking to support them at this time.

They aren’t original to me. They simply come from decisions made by the church in council. They were important at the time, and they still stand as guides and standards for who we are, together, as the church, today.

Might all within the Uniting Church reflect on and pray about these affirmations, and each of us seek to live up to them in our personal discipleship and our life as a community.

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Recognising Pain, Working for Reconciliation

The church is a community where people of different perspectives and varied commitments gather together in fellowship. It has always been the case, and it is especially evident in the present time, that the church is marked by diversity—a range of cultures, a range of skills, a range of theologies, a range of understandings.

This diversity is in focus in a particular way, in the life of the Uniting Church in Australia. The decision of the recent Assembly, to acknowledge two distinct understandings of marriage, reflects this diversity. The range of views across this diversity has led to some challenges.

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The “additional marriage liturgy” for Uniting Churches

Good news from the Uniting Church in Australia website:

The Uniting Church in Australia has today published an additional marriage liturgy that will allow same-gender couples to get married in Uniting Churches from Friday 21 September 2018. The liturgy was approved by the Assembly Standing Committee which met in Sydney from 24-26 August.

The publication of the Uniting Church in Australia Additional Marriage Liturgy (2018) follows the decision by members of the Fifteenth Assembly in July to hold two equal and distinct statements of belief on marriage to honour the diversity of Christian belief among Uniting Church members.

President Dr Deidre Palmer has issued a Pastoral Letter to Church members, to reassure people about the additional liturgy. “By using this liturgy, or the previously authorised marriage liturgies, Uniting Church authorised marriage celebrants will be acting properly within the rites of the Uniting Church in Australia,” said Dr Palmer. “I reaffirm that the Assembly’s resolution on marriage allows you to hold one of two positions on marriage, as a member, Minister or Church Council. The Assembly made this decision acknowledging the faithfully held positions across the life of the Church.”

The Assembly decision allows ministers and celebrants in the Uniting Church the freedom to conduct or to refuse to conduct same-gender marriages.

In her Pastoral Letter, Dr Palmer also praised the conscientious work of Uniting Church Synods and Presbyteries. “If you are still concerned about the position of the Uniting Church in relation to same-gender marriage, I would encourage you to talk to your Presbytery or Synod leaders to ensure you are acting on accurate information about the nature and impact of the Assembly’s decision,” said Dr Palmer.

The Assembly General Secretary Colleen Geyer has written to all Uniting Church authorised celebrants notifying them of the additional liturgy, and the date from which it is authorised for use.

Resources including frequently asked questions are also available on the Assembly website.

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15th Assembly

Marriage and the matter of being “vital to the life of the church”

Marriage of same gender people is NOT a matter that is “vital to the life of the church”.

Since the 15th Assembly concluded almost a month ago, there here has discussion in various places claiming that marriage is a matter “vital to the life of the Church”. The consequence of such a view is that the Assembly should be sending its decision to other councils of the church, seeking their “concurrence” on the decision made.

This is all in accord with what Clause 39 of the Constitution of the Uniting Church specifies. That clause itself depends on a sentence in paragraph 15(e) of the Basis of Union, which refers to “matters of vital importance to the church”. Continue reading

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15th Assembly

Marrying same-gender people: a biblical rationale

On what biblical basis can we justify the decision of the Uniting Church, to marry same gender people?

The following blog has been co-written by myself and my wife, the Rev. Elizabeth Raine.  We have a lifelong commitment to the faithful and critical study and interpretation of scripture, and to contextually-relevant missional engagement with contemporary society. We offer these reflections as a way of encouraging serious reflection on the biblical rationale underpinning the recent decision by the Uniting Church, to endorse the marriage of same gender couples alongside the marriage of a male and a female.

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