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National Sorry Day 2021

Last week, we celebrated Wesley Mission’s 209th Anniversary, marking our earliest foundations and the roots of Methodism in Australia. In 1812, the early colony in Sydney was a mere 25 years on from the First Fleet’s arrival.

I can’t shake the thought that every time we call out this date, it might sound a lot like ‘Wesley Mission began shortly after invasion’ to First Nations’ ears.

With European settlement came disease, displacement, alcohol, violence, massacres, incarceration and seemingly endless trauma inflicted on the world’s oldest living culture.

Wesley Mission’s catchcry is ‘do all the good you can’, but we must acknowledge that the European settlement we sprang from is the system that brought oppression for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. And that structural inequalities woven deeply into the fabric of our society serve to continue disadvantage today.

I mourn profoundly the overrepresentation of First Nations people in all the areas of community service that Wesley Mission provides.

I acknowledge that structural change is needed because we haven’t fully dismantled systems that continue to inflict trauma. Today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are still 10.6 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be removed from their families.

I’m far from the first CEO and Superintendent to acknowledge this truth. In the Sydney Morning Herald on 15 March 1988, some nine years before the Bringing Them Home report was tabled and ten years after he finished his term as Superintendent, one of my predecessors, Sir Alan Walker, was quoted as saying –  

“The darkest chapter in Australia’s history is its treatment of the Aboriginal people. As white Australians, we are called to repentance which is more than sorrow for the evils of the past and the present.”

He’s right. Our response can’t just be to mourn but to reflect on actions past and present.

As Professor Danielle Celermajer wrote for ABC Religion & Ethics, “…this is the paradoxical movement of apology – it simultaneously acknowledges our failure to abide by certain principles, and our recommitment to those principles. It is, for the collective, the way in which it renews the Covenant. Apology is, if you like, the act of “recovenanting the nation.””

What she is getting at is the catalyst for true repentance—the biblical definition. More than showing sorrow and regret, repentance is active; it is making a radical and complete change in direction. I will speak more to what such a direction will mean for us in the next few days.

Past practices have present-day effects. Such is the depth of intergenerational trauma.

And so I recognise, remember and lament the mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people forcibly removed from their families and communities.

Please join me in taking time today to reflect as a necessary step before committing or recommitting ourselves to meaningful action.

Rev Stu Cameron
CEO and Superintendent

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