The mantle was part of the inaugural service, held at St Christopher's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Canberra, when the NCCA was formed on 3 July 1994. It was made to celebrate the laying down of the old Australian Council of Churches and the lifting up of the new and larger National Council of Churches in Australia.
The Committee working on the liturgy for this service chose the reading from the 2nd chapter of 2 Kings where Elijah asks Elisha "Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken from you." Elisha said "Let me inherit a double share of your spirit." Elisha then picked up the cloak which had fallen from Elijah.
Jennie Stevens (Anglican) was approached by the liturgical committee to create a visual art work to be part of the service. She selected five other textile artists from four different churches: Joan James (Roman Catholic), Bonnie Begg (Anglican), Nancy Tingey (Religious Society of Friends), Marlene Greenwood and Margaret Roberts (Uniting). The group met and designed and worked for four months and they felt it was a most enjoyable and exciting experience. Each one of them had special areas of expertise and they felt it was great to work with such talented women of faith.
When designing the mantle they focused on the story of Elisha receiving Elijah’s mantle on his death and with it, his spirit. They saw the cross of Christ as their centre and the basis of their unity, from which the Spirit goes into the world, flowing as the river of life. It was to be a larger than life mantle (it measures 7x3½ metres) – symbolising the whole community of faith encompassed by this garment. It was also to be double-sided, one side representing the old Australian Council of Churches and the other new National Council of Churches in Australia. Then the thought came that they could open it out to form an even larger covering to encompass many. Gillian Hunt, from the liturgical committee described it as “big bold, brilliant and definitely more than a garment – it was the artists’ expression of God’s Spirit moving through time, flowing as water, forming as wind, flaming as fire, centred around the shared symbol – the Cross.”
The first step once the design was approved was to transfer the design on to 21 metres of silk. This silk was then waxed and painted with dyes. Machine embroidered overlays of silk georgette were appliquéd onto it before and after the three 7 metre lengths were sewn together.
The biggest thrill for the artists was the impact the mantle had on the service. It was very moving to witness the mantle being processed in, unfolded, passed from representative of the Australian Council of Churches to the representative of the National Council of Churches and then unfurled further and in the hands of the dancers to flow over the heads of all those in the cathedral. This was accompanied by the wonderful music of the instrumentalists and the ecumenical choir singing You are my inheritance, O God.
Tapes of this historic event are available in the NCCA office.
Since July 1994, the mantle has been used in many ecumenical services around Australia – it has travelled around New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Canberra and the Northern Territory.