*Even this close to the conclusion of our National Solemn Assembly (NSA) for” the healing of the land”, there are learnings and re- learnings.
St Irenaeus once reflected, in the second century, that
“God will always have more to teach us and we will always have more to learn from God.”
So is the reality, thanks be to God.
In our preparations and through the weekend, our eyes were continually opened to our God’s patient and providential presence.
Video 1: National Solemn Assembly Day 1 Sat 26th Sep 9AM – 9PM
Video 2: National Solemn Assembly Day 2 Sun 27th Sep 9AM – 9PM
Dreams and visions our Indigenous leaders have been granted, years and even decades back, were brought to a moment of fulfilment.
Spiritual and personal friendships, which might have been thought of as a past matter, we could see were being woven into how we are now brought together.
*I have written previously about this in relation to the spiritual friendship of Pastor Peter Walker’s father and myself. Had Peter’s father not been so gracious and trusting in Grafton 20 or so years ago; had the Rev Sealin Garlett not been so kind, in a demanding life, to leave his Noongar land and come over to Bundjalung, Yaegl and Gumbangeri lands to entrust me forward, would I have had the openness to Peter’s vision about an NSA as, ostensibly, we met just to talk about the pandemic, in early August?
Maybe, maybe not.
There were many such stories.
I once read War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy in a tent, waiting for waves suitable for surfing. In an essay, a philosopher reflects that our lives are like a large novel. We see it more as we look back. People appear and disappear from our lives. Much later, like 200 pages later in a novel , they may reappear or the purpose of our first meeting may become clearer.
We then see better the providence and presence of God in these moments of grace… “Living our lives forward, understanding them backwards “, as the saying goes.
*So, we learned at the NSA much more about God’s beautiful providence and exquisite timing.
On Friday 2 October, we had a time of reflection and prayer on Zoom to discuss the National Solemn Assembly. This was convened again by the wonderful faithful facilitating ministry of Warwick Marsh and Kym Farnik from the National Day of Prayer & Fasting team.
On that Zoom call there were many heartfelt expressions (with tears at times) of gratitude to both the National Council of Churches and the event organisors.
Said Ps Tim Edwards, “It’s a brand-new day now for us and those nearby in the Pacific.”
Tim paused to remember our faithful Indigenous forerunners who prayed for this time in bleaker eras.
Ps Julie Knight’s analogy, from her granted vision, was of bulbs long in the ground, now bursting into blossom. A Kairos moment, a “now time”, for things long dormant; a fruitfulness ahead, like after rain on a parched desert.
Ps Rob Knight reflected thus on the “big difference” our NSA has and will make.
Ps Carl Musch the founder of Indigenous Ministry Links, conveyed that there has been nothing on this scale of an indigenous cross-cultural gathering since the Praise Corroborees and the prayer gathering at Uluru in the late 1990’s.
Carl affirmed that our prayers are birthing a “Movement”:
“I’ve never seen this level of enthusiasm for prayer.”
Our shared wisdom is that “you change nations in the heavenlies first”, and this includes praying for those needed labourers for the harvest.
*Poignantly, we know to the depths of our being, that to achieve what is required and possible, the whole Body of Christ must work together.
Jesus’ prayer in John 17 was recalled again and again through the NSA. It is a guiding text.
Our oneness in Jesus is absolutely crucial for the period ahead.
This is so counter-cultural, including for many Church cultures, which merely replicate the surrounding culture of thoughtless conflict.
The saying, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, reminds us of how dogged are cultures based on assumptions of routine division and discord.
Our own journey, to and through the NSA, has therefore had clear markers: the utter necessity for honest repentance; for forgiveness, given and received. These matters are utterly fundamental to any quality of reconciliation from which might come any next steps.
Our journey to this necessary quality of “at-one-ness” is made possible by the amazing grace of our Atonement, through Jesus, “who paid the price for all”.
*Our Oneness, in Word and Spirit, through the NSA, led our Indigenous leaders to convey gratitude for the presence and contributions of us non- Indigenous folk.
Some of our Indigenous elders wept as they articulated their gratitude for our support.
The backstory is, as Ps Tim recalled, a history of “being steam-rolled as non-Indigenous folk took our ideas and made them their own in order to bolster their own authority”.
This is the history that has to be redeemed. That is why it is essential that, as with this NSA, we facilitate Indigenous leadership.
During one of the “break out” smaller groups, I was commended by another non-Indigenous person for the role of the NCCA in facilitating the NSA.
I said quite honestly, “All we did was not get in the way!”
*Wonderfully, as plans shaped for the NSA, our “Oneness became more international.
Only in Heaven, it may be, will we know how the organised and faithful prayer — partners on every continent kept us in a safe and protected space for our NSA.
It was wonderful to hear from Sue Rowe, founder of the Global Watch in California, how our Indigenous leaders here have inspired Native Americans, as they tuned in to our NSA.
I know how touched were those I invited to offer a Reflection from South India and from Fiji. As leaders, respectively, in the Indian National Council of Churches and the Pacific Council of Churches, Revds Vinod Victor and James Bhagwan were deeply moved by what they observed. “This is a great experience,” said Vinod from Trivandrum. Those present will recall James’ inspired prayer as he concluded.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
“God will always have more to teach us, and we will always have more to learn.”
What we are all learning more of is God’s profound purpose for us who live in “this great Southland of the Holy Spirit.”
We are to be a sign of the coming unity of the human family, through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Does that capture what the Spirit is saying to us disciples of Jesus who are here now, together?
Maybe there are better ways to say it. Maybe it is not yet clear enough.
But, from our prayerful listening at the NSA, I think we all know, from Luke 12:48, that much is expected of those to whom much is given.
WHAT DO I THINK IS NOW BEING ASKED?
Plainly, that we keep nurturing a culture of prayerful, ever deepening oneness amongst us. We must keep living John 17.
Plainly too, wherever possible we must embrace, facilitate and enable Indigenous leadership. We must do what we can, “to not get in the way!”
*One other crucial matter stays with me.
Again, St Irenaeus in the second century, gives us a framework when he affirms that,
“The glory of God is a person fully alive and the life of a person consists in beholding God.”
“Beholding” is a word that emerged in our preparations.
Beholding God, in the Spirit of the One who says, “behold I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5), we are asked to help people live in the abundance of life that Jesus conveys in John 10:10.
Young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders must be our focus.
The stories we heard of youth suicide, from many communities, are heartbreaking.
As someone in ministry for more than 40 years, I have gone to the homes of so many families and taken too many funerals after youth suicide.
I remember every one of them. Every young person who killed themselves. As if it was yesterday.
I cannot begin to convey the grief their loss still gives me. Every one of them. And they were not my children or grandchildren. “Jesus weeps…“
At the NSA, we listened to the grieving prayers of and for the parents and grandparents of these dear children who have suicided.
Warwick Marsh told us in the Friday debrief, that the rate of suicide is 4 times greater for Indigenous youth between age 15-24 than it is for the rest of the nation. For 5-17 year old children, the suicide rate is worse still, at 5 times the national rate. The Lancet calls it an unmitigated crisis. Warwick conveyed, at our debrief, that too much of this relates to sexual molestation, especially against children.
*Of the many stories and images, we heard through our NSA, one that stays with me was from the dear soul Ps Sherry Lowah inside the Uniting Church in Alice Springs. She spoke of how that Church put on our NSA in the Church. She talked of kids, very young to teenagers, who were coming into her Church just to listen as our Indigenous leaders prayed and spoke.
She spoke of how they stayed, listened.
What were they thinking as they listened? We were told of the surprise as to how long many of them had stayed.
The task ahead is to make sure that every one of these kids know how they are cherished, beloved; know that they have God-given gifts which we need; know that each of them have a contribution to make that no-one else can make.
The task ahead is to ensure each of them has an education and employment pathway which gives them abundant lives and reveals the glory of God.
The task ahead is to do these practical, nation-building matters as we convey how they are cherished by Jesus and us.
Near the end of our debrief on Friday, Dr Hari spoke out of his insight from the Lord, Who is calling us into deeper unity. Dr Hari who works at a hospital in Alice Springs hears the Lord saying, “I’ve seen enough suffering.“
In Matthew 25:13, Jesus reminds us that we know neither the day nor the hour of His return. We are bidden to watch, to be attentive.
The NSA has brought us to attention. Now, under the leadership of our First Nation people, we are called, as Ps Robyn and Ps Anthony Beezley said on Friday,
“To do greater things; to look for more anointing; to discern new ways of conveying God to our nation, with personality and friendship.”
We all agreed our NSA was a transformative time. We are hopefully re-convening in a month for further discernment as to next steps.
This Reflection is written in the hope that it may be helpful to the Movement God is leading, through our Indigenous leaders.
The national, global significance and potential draws us to our knees.
Holy Jesus, grace us anew, we pray, that we may follow where You lead, completely. AMEN.