May 27 to June 3, 2021 marks National Reconciliation Week on the Australian calendar. What makes this year more significant is the heightened awareness of Indigenous people and the issues that impact their lives. Black Lives Matter rallies organized globally and locally, followed by community outrage over the Juukan Gorge destruction by powerful mining corporation Rio Tinto, have propelled Indigenous issues to the fore. Reconciliation must be more than a word.
Reconciliation is a journey for all people — as individuals, families, communities, organizations, and, importantly, as God’s children. At the heart of this journey is the relationships between human beings and God.
National Reconciliation Week is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia.
National Reconciliation Week has been held on the same dates every year since 1996. These dates commemorate two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey — the successful 1967 referendum in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were given the right to vote and hold citizenship, and the High Court Mabo decision, which overturned the notion of terra nullius (no man’s land).
National Reconciliation Week started as the Week of Prayer for Reconciliation in 1993 (the International Year of the World’s Indigenous Peoples) and was supported by Australia's major faith communities. Today, the week is celebrated by businesses, schools, and early learning services, organizations, and individuals Australia-wide. Hundreds of events are held each year.
Reconciliation and You
While National Reconciliation Week is celebrated in Australia, we all have a role to play in building stronger relationships in our communities. Building stronger relationships is about showing that we value one another, value our histories and cultures, and agree to having a better future together.
Reconciliation must live in our hearts, minds, and actions each day, creating a witness of respectful relationships among us.
Are you ready to actively engage in reconciliation? You might think, “Who do I need to reconcile with? I'm not at odds with anyone!” This might be true for you, but you do live in a community with people who are broken, estranged, and cut off. You only need to walk the streets and listen to the story of those who are homeless to know. What better way to put reconciliation into practice? Seek out those who are marginalized and on the outer edge in your society.
Where Do We Start?
The desire to become a more reconciled nation has increased in Australia. The 2020 Australian Reconciliation Barometer (2020 ARB) surveyed a national sample of 495 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and 1,988 general community members across all states and territories. The general community sample and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sample are weighted to be representative in terms of age group, gender, and location (state and territory populations), as per Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Census data. Results show that Australians increasingly want to do something to help improve reconciliation.
Historically, National Reconciliation Week started as a week of prayer, so prayer is a good place to start. Pray for opportunities to arise where you can move from showing a smile to having a conversation. Did you know, according to the 2016 ABS stats, that 79 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people identify with the Christian faith, so as a Christian, it can be easier than you think to start a conversation about faith with an Indigenous person.
In the Australian Union Conference (AUC) office, we will be celebrating National Reconciliation Week in our morning worship topics. This will include a prayer focus on our Indigenous church leaders working in the conferences. We will host a cultural awareness presentation and several other fun interactive activities for staff.
We will also help facilitate a focus on reconciliation at the South Pacific Division office during their morning worships. However, the process of reconciliation is much longer than a week. That is why the AUC has embarked on developing a Reconciliation Action Plan, commonly known as a RAP, which is a framework to measure an organization's actions to intentionally take steps that work toward reconciliation.
There are conferences and church entities that are also developing their own RAPs. Reconciliation is about understanding each other and working together for a better future. We, as Christ's followers, should be at the forefront of bringing people together.
Being Agents of Change
God has called us to be His witness, telling the world about His love, reconciling humanity to one another and to Him. This is reconciliation. Paul states that God has “given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18). It is time for Christians to lead the way in crossing the street and putting reconciliation into action. It must be more than a word — reconciliation takes action.