Pastor Helen Wright reflects on the role of music, art and poetic words in the 2020 #ChangetheHeart prayer services and the the power of the arts in accompanying social change.
Change my heart O Lord. I bring my heart to you, in earnest despair, pleading for you to rise in us righteous anger, a desire for justice, deep sorrow, and a humble prayer.
On Tuesday 21 January 2020, over 500 people gathered in Sydney in the lead up to January 26 for Aunty Jean Phillips, Brooke Prentis, and Common Grace’s annual #ChangeTheHeart service. This was the midway point of 23 services held in every State and Territory across “these lands now called Australia”. Our hearts were compelled to bring our despair and worries of the broken relationship with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples to our God in prayer.
Upon arrival we were given tiny felt hearts which Brooke, Aboriginal Christian Leader and incoming CEO of Common Grace, encouraged us to grasp in our hands – a symbol of letting our whole hearts feel the weight of how little the church has done in supporting Aboriginal peoples; and a symbol of our hearts wrapped in our friend, Jesus,’ hands.
Brooke Prentis invited us all on a pilgrimage to “change this nation.” Through prayer, lament, gathering, hearing and listening to the truth of the current and past discrimination and injustice faced by Aboriginal peoples. Desiring “friendship, not Reconciliation, between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people” she exposed a harsh truth of current Australia when relaying the recent story of an Aboriginal Elder turned away from a bushfire Evacuation Centre by a worker of a Christian organisation because the worker said “we have helped enough of your people today”.
It was here when my heart fell. When I realised:
We cannot run away from our past. Not ever. The only way out is in.
We cannot live alone on the fantasy we feed our minds: that we can ignore the past.
Eventually we must touch life for real, hear the true pain that our society is built on.
Aunty Jean, a respected Aboriginal Christian Leader, echoed the words of Aboriginal Pastor George Rosendale who passed away during 2019, “there will never be Reconciliation and revival in this country until we acknowledge the theft of this land and what has happened to Aboriginal people.”
As she thanked each individual for showing up, she declared “We need you, and you need us.”
We cannot live in the fantasy that we, as individuals, are not needed to help bridge the gap of injustices. Eventually we must let life touch us, the reality of the discrimination, the trauma, the choices people made to get to where we are today. We must assess and analyse what we feed our minds through media and who we talk to, that shape what fragment of the picture we receive, what prejudices our mind absorbs without us even realising.
We cannot simply sit and stare at wounds whilst we wait for the government to enact reform. We must feel the pain, stand up and prayerfully move towards a Jesus love which sparks change. We must be united, all who have Jesus as our friend, to stand up for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander friends.
I was challenged to ask myself: Are we, as the church of Christ, leading the way for healing the wounds of the past, or are we being too easily assimilated into the culture of being distracted with our own world that we forget the opportunity to know the truth. Facts would tell us the latter:
Aunty Jean, so graciously with no condemnation, exposed a sad reality that most Aboriginal ministry in Australia is not supported by the Church. So much of the wealth that the church is built upon, is sadly “wealth that has come because of what has happened to Aboriginal people.”
We cannot pick and choose which parts of God’s Word we want to believe and obey, and ignore the parts that we don’t like. We cannot water down the Gospel and leave out the reality of our sin, focusing only on grace and love. We cannot pick up our Cross and continue to live by the standards of our culture and the habits of the past without recognising what Australian culture is built on.
As the service came to closing, Brooke finished with a beautiful benediction*, she read the opening line through tears:
“May the God of all wonder who set the stars in the sky,
bless you with relentless unsettledness -
that drives you to seek truth.”
Tears. She understood the weight. The weight of all the pain felt on the soil we stand upon. Tears - not a sign of weakness but that she was alive to the truth, and her heart is continuously changed because of it. So I ask, will you also feel the weight of this pain? Will you Change your heart? Will you change your heart to the likeness of our King who does not delight in injustices. Our king who has righteous wrath at the neglect of vulnerable minorities. A king who stands up for the last, the lost, and the least. A king who loves all unconditionally, no matter their background. A king who prays for his people. A king who calls us into community. Will we change our heart, collectively, as the body of christ? Brooke’s tears were also of friendship, thankful tears for all who had showed up, tears of hope, hope that through Jesus, the truth will set us all free, as Brooke continued her benediction:
“May the God of all comfort who determined the height of the mountains,
bless you with tears from shared pain and mourning -
that shows you hope.”
So we invite you. Change this nation by joining us in prayer. Because the simple joy of praying for our nation and friends is an extraordinary thing. We can touch upon the fabric of the King who sculpts galaxies, who has the power to make a ripple, small and big, across history, simply by a gesture of humility. Perhaps no visible, radical change will happen automatically but we change ourselves as we ask. We change our heart.
*Read Brooke’s full Benediction here: An Aboriginal Prayer for Truth and Hope
Lilly Smith is a psychology honours student at Macquarie University with a deep passion for listening to and loving children and youth. She has a heart for many injustices but especially environmental conservation and the vulnerable/ marginalised people in society. She spends most of her time by the beach, hunting down good coffee and sourdough but mostly connecting with people of all ages - at her church and using her Diploma of Christian Studies to share Jesus’ overwhelming love with others.