8 December 2023

Vicar calls for permanent state of repentance over treatment of Indigenous peoples 

The Aboriginal Sunday service at Merri Creek Anglican. Picture: supplied

By Mark Brolly

27 January 2022

Australia should be in a permanent “state of repentance” over the dispossession and injustices Indigenous people have endured, according to one Melbourne vicar. 

Merri Creek Anglican Church senior minister the Reverend Dr Peter Carolane said colonisation was a form of systemic injustice and it was a fantasy to think that it and its effects could be reversed.  

But he said churches should listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, pray that Indigenous church leaders would be raised up and the Indigenous church grow strongly, and respond generously by supporting Aboriginal-run programs. 

Dr Carolane spoke after his church participated in an Aboriginal Sunday service on 23 January. 

The day was founded by 1930s Indigenous leader William Cooper, and is now part of a #ChangeTheHeart initiative run in the lead up to Australia Day by online Australian Christian justice movement Common Grace. 

Common Grace chief executive Brooke Prentis said 26 January was a difficult time for many people across the lands called Australia. 

Read more: Repent of colonialism, missionary conference told

“Many Aboriginal peoples are mourning, commemorating survival, acknowledging invasion, or just hurting from present day injustices,” she said. 

“Through #Change The Heart, we create the space for listening, learning and loving.  

“It is a unique opportunity to be led by Aboriginal Christian leaders, to seek justice for the past and present, and to lead the nation in prayer for love to win over hate.” 

At Merri Creek, Dr Carolane said the day was an opportunity for churches to stand in solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christians across the country. 

He said it was important to help Christians in Australia understand their history, understand events in the past, and to keep learning about, reflecting on, and repenting these. 

But he said, there was no way to reverse colonisation or its effects. 

“We need to be in a state of permanent repentance in Australia and to not think, ‘Oh, we can just move on now’,” he said. 

“Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders are still suffering, and the effects of colonisation are embedded in our country. 

“Colonisation is a form of systemic injustice, so the egg has been scrambled and you can’t unscramble the egg. The land has been stolen and even in situations where there’s Native Title, which is good, you still have the injustices continuing. “ 

Dr Carolane said Germany was a model of permanent repentance. He said in Berlin, for instance, there were “tripping hazards” installed in some footpaths to indicate which houses Jewish people had been taken from during the Holocaust. 

Dr Carolane said part of Merri Creek Anglican’s mission giving was directed to Aboriginal ministry through Tearfund Australia, with funds distributed among programs run by Aboriginal people across Australia.  

St Michael’s North Carlton also participated in Aboriginal Sunday since 2019. It has committed $3500 annually to Common Grace from its ministry expenses for “paying the rent” to the traditional custodians of the land. 

St Michael’s vicar the Reverend Steve Webster said some of St Michael’s mission spending also went to Bush Church Aid to help Aboriginal people and to the Indigenous Hospitality House in North Carlton, which is owned by Carlton’s Church of All Nations.  

Mr Webster said he hoped Aboriginal Christian leader and Ms Prentis would come to the parish, and open up to a wider group across Victoria with activities at North Carlton 

Read more: A daily memorial to the costs of dispossession

“I think we’re on a good track, a good trajectory in that we’ve done the listening and learning and a lot of educating of our people, which started to come into some action and we’ve made a good fist of it,” he said. 

This year marks a decade since Aboriginal Christian leader Aunty Jean Phillips led a small group of people in prayer together before 26 January in Brisbane’s West End.  

Since then, this event has become services across Australia, known as #ChangeTheHeart. 

Last year, Common Grace partnered with the Australian Christian Channel (ACCTV) to run a national televised service. 

This increased accessibility and reach, allowing individuals to watch the service from their own homes. More than 60 churches across Australia also hosted a screening of the service.  

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