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The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission (NATSIEC) held its third Christ and Culture Conference at the St Joseph’s Centre for Reflective Living at Baulkham Hills.

This conference was an opportunity for participants to explore faith in their own cultural context. The conference was facilitated by Dr Anthony G Reddie from the UK.

Dr Reddie was able to draw on his experience of working at a grassroots level with faith communities to enable delegates to explore the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander context in Australia.

By sharing his experience of being a descendant of the slave trade he hoped to be “a mirror to help delegates to see what opportunities God may be placing before you, in your context, at this time in order to be agents of change in the future.”  

The participants, who were all Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Christians, came from all over Australia and from several different denominations including Catholic, Anglican, Uniting Church and Salvation Army.

Delegates included five Aboriginal women from Western Sydney: Rhonda Randall, Mavis Indich, Janice Brown, Margaret Farrell, and Jenny Ebsworth.

Janice Brown said she found Anthony Reddie to be a wonderful speaker. “Theology has always been a part of my life. Years ago I started a theology course but didn’t get the chance to finish it. A lot of the time was spent reflecting on everyday living and incidents in our lives.

“Anthony reminded us that if you are a Christian you must speak up about injustice. Like Saint Mary MacKillop – never see a need without trying to do something about it.”

Rhonda Randall said she was encouraged by hearing other delegates ask questions, which helped to deepen her understanding. “I know now that sometimes Bible stories have a deeper meaning than when you first hear them. A question came into my head but I was too nervous to ask it but a friend encouraged me.

“The response from Anthony lifted up my spirits. He said, ‘People go to universities to study for a long time to get to the stage where you are to have asked this question.’”

Jenny Ebsworth said she enjoyed the way Anthony facilitated the workshops. “I have wanted to attend a theology course but couldn’t do so because of raising a granddaughter. I found the conference very interesting and it gave me an insight to how theology works. The other participants really inspired me.”

Margaret Farrell said she enjoyed the workshop where Anthony told the story of the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak at the same time as Jairus, a very important man, asked Jesus to heal his daughter.

“Anthony gave us something to think about and this is what I remember. The woman in the story didn’t feel important and didn’t want to be noticed. Her faith was strong enough to believe that if she touched Jesus cloak she would be healed. She was healed immediately. Jesus sees deep into our hearts and recognises the faith that we have. He responds when He sees that faith.”

Mavis Indich said the conference took her back to when she was a young girl at the Catholic school at Moora, WA. “I felt the same feelings I had when I made my First Communion. In those days I felt very close to God and wanted to go to church every day. I used to hang around at the Sisters’ place before I went to school. I connected with the Sisters. At the conference I met another participant who is part of my family and that was exciting.”

The delegates said they were grateful to those Religious congregations who supported them financially to attend the conference: Sisters of Mercy Parramatta, Sisters of St Joseph of California, Franciscan Friars – Waverley, Presentation Sisters – Lismore, Columban Missionaries, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, Benedictines – Arcadia, Loreto Sisters, Christian Brothers, Las Casas Dominican Centre and the Society of Jesus.

The richness that people brought from different cultures and church experiences ensured lively and engaging discussions with issues such as contextualising scripture, narrative theologies and understanding fixed identities and complex subjectivity.



NATSIEC would like to gratefully acknowledge a grant received from the Australian Research Theology Foundation Inc.  www.artfinc.org.au



The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission (NATSIEC) was the peak ecumenical Indigenous body in Australia. It was a commission of the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA).  With NATSIEC’s guidance, the churches worked together for a fair deal for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, and for the healing of our nation. NATSIEC activities ceased in 2016.

Read the NATSIEC Mandate

Commission members of NATSIEC were all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the first peoples of this land and sea. They represented a cross-section of church-related Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups from the Anglican Church of Australia, the Churches of Christ, the Lutheran Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Salvation Army and the Uniting Church in Australia.

We Are What We Are - Spirit People

We Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples believe that the Creator has always been with our people since the beginning of time. Our connection to this land Australia and the stories from long ago emphasise this and reveals to us our ongoing relationship to the Creator. We know that the Spirit is always close to us and within us. The Spirits of our ancestors are always around us looking out for us and showing us the path we should travel. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.

We have been given a gift to offer the rest of humanity; the importance of relationships. The Creator still has a strong relationship with us and helps us build stronger relationships with one another. These relationships also cover everything around us, for it is through the land, water and air that we are continually reminded of this. It is not just the symbol of the rainbow that reminds us about the covenant between the Creator and humanity. There are signs all around us that continually reminds us of the Covenant.

Our peoples are generous, caring and compassionate towards each other and other Australians. We have survived many negative things yet we still reach out our hand in reconciliation. This is the message of long ago from our roots and also the message through the Christian Bible. It has been the message passed down from generation to generation from parent to children since time began.

The Spirit lives on through us and we must continually foster this relationship through acts that remind us of this great truth. These acts are ceremonies, which help us to draw closer to our creator who has left the Spirit with us. Through them we retell and relive the great stories of our past.

Since the coming of the Western Culture, there has been a breakdown in our relationship with the Creator. Our ways have been under threat and this has led us to move away from our roots and into a foreign way of thinking. This has caused hardships within our communities as we struggle to find our way. Sometimes we have failed to recognise the Spirit present with us. We looked to the new culture to show us the way forward and it has led to more confusion and loss of direction. This culture has failed our people. It has shown it cannot satisfy our deepest yearnings.

This culture wanted us to look for the Creator through their eyes. They have failed to see that the Creator exists within our culture. While Abraham was wandering in the desert our peoples had been for many generations living in close relationship with our Creator. We have an Old Testament, which we can now accept as part of our salvation history.

How short sighted Western Culture was to think they had the monopoly on the Creator and how blinded were we to believe this was true. It is up to us to reclaim our beliefs. Our Creator yearns for us to come back. Our relationship has been tested and made stronger because of the many mistakes along the journey because we have learnt so much from the experience. We now know about Christ. This story from the Western Culture has touched and had an impact on our lives.

We did not have Jesus amongst us as the Apostles did but he left us the Spirit of the Creator with us. We know this Spirit to be the same Spirit who is with us now because of what it has done and continues to do. This Spirit of relationships reminds us about our responsibilities to one another and creation and that we all come from the same source of life. This Spirit is also the Spirit of the Rainbow Serpent, the Brolga, the Emu, the Stars, the Fish, the Plants, the mountains and much more. We must hold on to and strengthen our Spiritual heritage.

As a Minority we stand as the strength of this Land.
We affirm our belief in the Creator Spirit who created us.
It is in our connection to this deep sense of belonging that our Identity lives.
Our Culture can never be broken.
We embrace our past. We are alive in the present and have hope in the future.
The Creator Spirit calls us into a search for a deeper relationship with himself and each other.
The Creator Spirit calls us to renewal.

Statement by NATSIEC commissioners - 2003


Graeme_Jubal_Cross_4In 2009, NATSIEC held the second Christ and Culture Conference in Ballina, NSW.

The conference was an exploration of Indigenous theology, what it is and the unique contribution Indigenous spirituality makes to an Australian theology. Other sessions included: looking at the experience of 100 years of mission in Australia: examining what the Community of Church of the future would look like; the importance of story telling; and how we bring Indigenous culture into our ministry. Also discussed was how to strengthen our networks and work better together.

With International theologians, Dr Wati Longchar and Dr Limatula Logkumer, adding their voice to local theologians such as Evelyn Parkin this collection of papers, and presentations is a valuable addition to the body of knowledge on Indigenous theology and spirituality. Other contributors were renowned futurist Prof. Tony Stephenson, Bishop Greg Thompson and Pastor Harry Walker. Revd. Colleen Mamarika, Revd. Dr. Joy Sandefur and Ms. Tahnia Mossman also talked about their own experiences and perspectives from the field. Finally, the voices of each and every participant are woven throughout the publication through the inclusion of their thoughts arising out of the field work.

Casino_banner_printThe inaugural Christ and Culture Conference was held at Noosa in July 2007.

The conference was an initiative that we had longed to do for some time and we were excited that it was such an outstanding success. We had ninety participants, the majority of whom were Indigenous, from all around the country and who were representative of many different denominations. We also had participation by other Indigenous peoples, Maoris, a Sami and a Dalit.  We were particularly pleased that we had eleven teenagers who accompanied their parents, but who also participated fully in the conference program.

Participants found the conference to be a particularly enriching and invigorating few days. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive with participants feeling empowered, challenged, inspired to action and who are returning to their communities with many new ideas taking shape.

There were fifteen workshops centred on the conference themes which were:

  • Our Life in Ministry - what is it to be Indigenous and Church?  What does inculturation and the Churches mean for us in our faith journey?  How do we minister to fellow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in specific locations?
  • Search for Meaning - Indigenous culture and how it relates to the bible. Who is this person Jesus through Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eyes?
  • Justice and the Gospel - Jesus came to bring good news to the poor and set the captives free; in our Australian context how does the gospel speak to us of Justice?
  • Covenanting - God calls us to be one, what does this mean for the Churches today in Australia and how can we make this commitment to one another.

Following is snapshot of some of the themes and outcomes that arose from the conference:

  • Relationship and family was a very strong theme, this came through in many of the workshops, the importance of family and of guiding the youth. Many of the families presented together and it was felt that it was a strength of the conference to have the different generations participating together. It was also felt that there was a greater need to support the women, encourage the men to participate more, and to provide opportunities to the youth to participate and develop more fully.
  • The use of story was a powerful component of many workshops and there was much discussion about the need to use stories about the things around us, to help us explain God and to let our stories be our theology. Several presenters shared their own stories, which showed their struggles, courage and initiative to overcome various hardships and to explain how they explored and experienced their relationship to God and their churches.
  • Throughout the conference we were reminded that we shouldn't get "hung up" on a White interpretation of Christ; that we need to trust in our own interpretations as we know that God was here before colonization. We need to be freer with our celebrations.
  • Culture and language was also affirmed to be vitally important, particularly in the area of weaving gospel and culture together. It was particularly uplifting to hear from those who minister in their own language and to know that they have been able to develop Indigenous language resources to support their ministry.
  • Participants also expressed some challenges which they thought the 'mainstream' Churches need to engage with:
    • That mainstream church needs to learn more about Aboriginal and TSI life which can be used to show Jesus.
    • That Christian and Aboriginal religion can mix, but there still needs to be a rethink about the old mission style of ministering.
    • Also expressed was the view that Indigenous peoples are not listened to and they need to be more actively encouraged and supported to take a stronger lead within their churches.
    • Several people would have liked there to be more Heads of Churches attending the conference.
    • A particular recommendation was for the churches to develop schools programs to provide Indigenous youth with free schooling in the Church education systems.
    • Other recommendations that arose were to convene a women's cultural camp and a request to develop a collection of Aboriginal women's stories linking to scripture and social change.
    • Overall better training and formation is required.

The youth also had the opportunity to present at the conference and as part of their presentation they put forward a list of recommendations to the conference:

  1. All the youth agreed that they needed more travelling opportunities. To have youth camps where the youth from all over, and from different denominations, can meet and learn more about Christ and to share in our stories.
  2. The youth would like to ask Churches to make Church more user friendly and to accommodate people of all ages.
  3. The youth also asked that the ministers interact with everyone, so that they get a better understanding of the word of the Lord.

This conference was a huge success with all participants expressing a desire to attend another and to make it a regular event.

Artwork by Casino Public School.

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