Sitting With Aunty Jean

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Writer Kaye Reid

Aboriginal Christian leader Aunty Jean Phillips, part of the team that created the Grasstree Gathering, and frequent contributor to Surrender Conference, visited Ringwood Church of Christ on Sunday March 24 as part of a ‘break out’ session of the Surrender Conference. I had the privileged opportunity to interview Aunty Jean as part of our worship service.

Aunty Jean was incredibly gracious, and had a lot to share with the community; she had a voice and a platform and some points that were important to her for us to hear. And everyone who was there had the opportunity to hear from her personally, and to stand in response expressing our sorrow for the injustices of the past and the continuing effects of these injustices and ongoing racism experienced. Aunty Jean stood with us, and asked that we didn't do so out of guilt. She called us to a future together. A few visitors commented they hadn't seen church like this before, that Aunty Jean was given so much of a voice and a platform, and the Holy Spirit was given space to move. 

The recording is now available on Ringwood church’s SoundCloud profile,

Some of the possible actions that she suggested a church community could participate in as an expression of our journey towards reconciliation were to host a reflection and prayer event prior to 26 January in future years; hold seminars with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people sharing stories and listening together; and to visit a site where a massacre of Indigenous people occurred, and pray over the site. One of Ringwood church’s members is feeling very called to this, and is exploring where known sites are located.

These connections are part of the beauty of the Surrender Conference, and the network Surrender Co. creates, and Aunty Jean acknowledged the role of people like Lisa and Jon Owen for their hospitality in Mt Druitt, with the beginnings of Surrender Co. emerging from Urban Neighbours of Hope (UNOH), an agency strongly supported and nurtured by Churches of Christ. 

We were fortunate to have Aunty Jean with us for worship, along with people who had attended the conference in the days prior. Aunty Jean made some positive connections because of this—particularly with baby Zoe from our church, and all that Zoe represents as a child who is being raised by parents who will be equipping her for a future where our nation is reconciled. Brendan, Laura, and Zoe had been at Surrender throughout the conference. 

Another noteworthy moment was after the service when one of our senior members came up to Aunty Jean to meet her and warmly introduce herself, saying that Aunty Jean was the first Indigenous person she had met in her life!

I interviewed Aunty Jean, with us sitting together on the platform, with some Indigenous artworks on screen from the book Our Mob, God's Story edited by Christobel Mattingley, and we just chatted. After listening, I expressed my heartbreak and heaviness for Indigenous people, and said sorry for the injustices, and invited others to stand too, without any compulsion, if they wished to. The room stood together with respect—a powerful and profound moment conveying our heartbreak—and Aunty Jean stood with us too. I acknowledged the significance of her standing with us, and into the future together. I asked Aunty Jean to pray for us, and our church, and our nation together as we stood there. She led us in prayer. It was a humbling experience.  

We then chatted about communion, and experiences of communion and its meaning for Aunty Jean, and referred to images on screen of Indigenous art works of communion, also from Our Mob, God's Story, and then we shared in communion together as a community with Aunty Jean's comments pointing us back to the cross. 

I have reflected on the significance of Surrender as a ‘pop-up’ community of challenge and solidarity, and the break out event was an extension of that into the local church so that the movement between the churches and Surrender was in both directions. We had people from our church involved in the organising of the conference, as well as participating, and Surrender came to us also. 

I can see that we are all interconnected, interwoven, over many years of missional engagement, community and people connecting. This is both formal and organic. Like everything, some people are impacted and involved in this while others are not. I think Aunty Jean visiting further raised the profile and understanding of both First Nations People and Surrender in our church.

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