SEQ Friends of Nungalinya College – building cultural bridges

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St Matthew’s, Holland Park hosts the ecumenical ‘SEQ Friends of Nungalinya’ group, which seeks to raise awareness of and support the mission of Nungalinya College through prayer, volunteering and fundraising

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Nungalinya College is an ecumenical theological college focused upon equipping Indigenous laity in Northern Territory remote communities for mission and service.

St Matthew’s relationship with Nungalinya started when one of my adult children moved to Darwin for work purposes some years ago.

Having been a supporter of Nungalinya for some years through ABM, we thought we had better reach out in person when next visiting our daughter and son in law in Darwin.

After a quick phone call, we ended up meeting with the retiring Principal (Dr Jude Long) and joined in with one of the weekly Friday welcome morning teas with students, staff and volunteers onsite.

We were just blown away by the work of Nungalinya and the amazing blessings it provides via its students and outreach to many remote Indigenous communities in the NT.

I echo my wife, Susan, who said that “You often feel so helpless in the face of all the negative news about Indigenous  issues, yet here is a genuine good news story you never hear about that is making a real positive difference.”

When we asked how we as a parish could help, Dr Jude suggested we start a local ‘friends group’ and also seek to reach out to our own local Indigenous community.

When we spoke to our parish priest about the ‘friends group’ idea, Fr Allan Paulsen immediately came on board and offered to host the group and its inaugural dinner late last year.

Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Coordinator Chrissy Ellis was also an enthusiastic supporter and a fantastic facilitator making suggestions and sharing contacts with potentially like-minded folks from SEQ churches of all denominations.

Diocesan RAP Coordinator Chrissy Ellis (right) shares a moment with the retiring Nungalinya Principal Dr Jude Long (left) at the St Matthew’s, Holland Park Nungalinya Dinner

Encouraged by Bishop Jeremy Greaves, ABM representative Fr Ken Spreadborough and the wider ACSQ RAP Committee, as a parish we somewhat tentatively stepped out in faith. We reached out for the first time to our local Indigenous community (through Chrissy’s contacts) and were honoured on the night of the dinner for the 40 + guests to receive a ‘Welcome to Country’ by Uncle Des Sandy, accompanied by some of the local Indigenous  community. Many were moved to tears to see Uncle Des and Fr Allan arm in arm during the ‘Prayer of Reconciliation’.

Uncle Des Sandy (left) and Fr Allan Paulsen opening the Nungalinya Dinner in prayer for reconciliation and stronger ties between St Matthew’s, Holland Park and our local indigenous community

We also partnered with Sue Brown from the Bible Society and Glenn Goodwin, who was the major driving force behind the 2017 Christian Book of the year, Our Mob, God’s Story, which celebrates the impact of the Bible on Australia’s First Nations Peoples. Sue and Glenn shared their journey with Nungalinya in the production of the book and their joint endeavours with Nungalinya students to help translate scripture into hundreds of local Indigenous languages. Can you imagine the experience of being able to read the Bible in your own ‘heart language’ for the first time?

St Matthew’s prays that the SEQ Friends of Nungalinya ambitions are realised. It seeks to meet once or twice a year to encourage each other and support building ‘cultural bridges’ both locally within SEQ and across the nation to Nungalinya.

The SEQ Friends were inspired by the Diocesan Reconciliation Action Plan which identified a number of key actions and targets.

Some of these relevant to SEQ Friends and St Matthew’s are that:

  1. The Diocese specifically identified a priority to develop stronger links with Nungalinya as a part of its wider objective to develop and strengthen indigenous lay ministry and their formation.
  2. Parishes are encouraged to engage with and promote the broader reconciliation movement as well as strengthening linkages with their local indigenous communities (including by being involved in Reconciliation Week Activities and cross cultural awareness activities).

Closer to home, St Matthew’s parishioners now have a wider view from personal experience; namely that each one of us can do something to assist building these bridges. It just takes the courage to reach out and ask for help. As a parish, we at St Matthew’s are just starting on the journey. We are hoping to continue to work closely with and learn from Chrissy, as we seek to identify cross cultural opportunities to build further bridges of understanding with our local Indigenous community and seeking to learn more of their history and stories.

Watch this space for some date claimers as further ‘building plans for the bridges’ come off the presses.

The last word goes to new Principal of Nungalinya Ben Van Gelderen, who said: “It’s a great encouragement to have such support (prayer and financial) from the SEQ Friends. I hope we can continue to build partnerships with individuals, churches and organisations in South East Queensland to see the Kingdom grow in Indigenous communities. I will be visiting Brisbane later in the year to thank you for your support and outline our future needs. God bless.”

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