This year’s ecumenical clergy event was themed: ‘The Voice: What’s It All About?’ Two guest presenters, Aunty Prof. Anne Pattel-Gray (Head of the School of Indigenous Studies at the University of Divinity) and Dean Parkin (Director of From the Heart / Yes23), spoke on the Uluru Statement From the Heart, including the Voice to Parliament.
Bishop Jeremy Greaves — Bishop for the Northern Region
Dean Parkin reminded us of the hopes captured in the Statement From the Heart around sovereignty, that it would lead to “a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood”. He said that this is about “connecting our stories”. I had never really considered this aspect of acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution, which is the Statement’s constitutional reform.
Recognising the First Peoples of Australia in the Constitution connects their story with the stories of all those who have come to this land since: my story becomes part of the 65,000-year story of people on this land. It is a small step from there to something that Aunty Prof. Anne said, “My redemption is tied to your redemption…I can’t be redeemed without you.”
These insights will necessarily change the way that I engage in this space because they shift the conversation from being about “you” and “me” to being about “us”. The invitation we have been given from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Statement From the Heart is:
“We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”
I will be much more mindful of how I do this walking together in future. It will mean doing what I can to foster good will and real conversations about these important things whenever I get the opportunity.
The Rev’d Anthony Odionyenfe — Associate Priest, Living Waters Catholic Parish
I must say that Prof. Anne Pattel-Gray spoke to the heart with a resounding clarity similar to John the Baptiser. The key moments for me were when she challenged her audience to get involved in the “Voice conversation” on ethical, rather than political, grounds.
And this for me has been one of the missing links in the whole conversation journey. And I say so because I think through this ethical conversation the referendum is more than a voting event — it is crucially a “yes” encounter with the First Nations people. It is also an honest acknowledgement of our shared history, which is about being authentic to “truth telling”. In Aunty Anne’s words to the Church at the combined clergy day gathering, the referendum should be understood as a Damascus moment of atonement.
I will take these insights in openness to the Spirit of God, while acknowledging the gifts that each of us offers from our unique cultures and our shared history.
The Ven. Bronwyn Pagram — Archdeacon of Oxley and Priest-in-Charge, The Parish of Goodna
Aunty Prof. Anne Pattel-Gray spoke about the racism, sexism and discrimination she has sadly experienced from brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as from the wider Australian community…a not uncommon experience for First Nations people.
She then immediately spoke powerfully about the Jesus she knows: the one who sees her, values her, hears her and affirms her true humanity and worth as a child of God. Dr Anne stated:
“My redemption is tied to your redemption…we are so bound together…Together we need to be Christ’s ambassadors for reconciliation and justice.”
I agree with this assertion. The only way forward in Australia is for First Nations and non-Indigenous Australians (some of whom arrived as refugees, convicts or outcasts) to walk together. As Christians we should role model and advocate for reconciliation and justice.
It will take careful and generous listening, prayers for humility and setting aside pre-conceptions and biases, so we can really hear First Nations voices — voices that have been silenced or muted for generations. I pray that God sustains me with courage and strength to engage intentionally in this work. Our parish is planning conversations on civics, our history, and what it might means to “be redeemed” as a nation. I include “spots” in sermons and reflections as the scripture and the Spirit allow.
The Rev’d Peter Dorfield — Priest, Catholic Diocese of Toowoomba
Prof. Anne and Dean invited us to continue walking with them in positively supporting the Voice referendum, a singular opportunity in our time grounded in the Uluru Statement From the Heart.
Through Prof. Anne’s words I was reminded once again of both the enduring generational impact of colonisation on the lives, livelihoods, Country and cultures of First Nations peoples and the resilience, wisdom and inner strength of an ancient sovereignty that has never been ceded or extinguished. I was moved by Prof. Anne’s assertion about the Voice to Parliament:
“Trust us, the First Nations peoples of this land, to make representations on matters affecting our own lives.”
For myself, in personal and pastoral involvement in community and Church issues where local First Nations peoples are involved, this call to trust them sharpens my respect for their prior rights and leadership. I take these matters into prayer, reading and open discussion in both the Church and wider communities, especially on issues such as the Voice Referendum, urging support for constitutional recognition and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to offer a view on matters that impact them.
Through the Toowoomba Diocese’s resources, including our Social Justice Commission and our online parish communication facility, we will continue to promote positive support for the Voice in the forthcoming referendum, in the spirit of the challenge issued to us by Prof. Anne.
Editor’s note: Thank you to Margaret Naylon, Executive Officer for the Council for Ecumenism and Inter-religious Dialogue at the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane, for organising this year’s event. Late last year, Margaret received the Pro-Ecclesia et Pontifice, which is the highest Papal recognition of laity. Margaret was a driving force behind the Anglican-Roman Catholic Covenant, which was signed in 2009. A copy of the covenant hangs on the foyer wall of St Martin’s House.Jump to next article