12th Assembly 2009

‘How good it is to be accepted!’

Rodney Minniecon reflects on his first experience of the national church working with Indigenous issues.

july18_am_voxpop2rodneyminniecon_jeHow would you describe the atmosphere and sense of community at the Assembly so far?

I find it very good at the moment. A bit tiring because it is a bit long and there is a lot of trying to mix words. It’s a little bit complicated for me as an Aboriginal person because their words and a lot of things that could be done so quickly get caught up in just trying to find a word. And then it takes more time. It gets complicated, drags on and it becomes boring. I think it is probably all meaningful but it could be done quicker and simpler.

I also think some people seem to want their opinions put across all the time. They have a dominating way in which they seem to want their own opinions applied and do not worry about other people’s opinions. And I think that is where things start to get dragged out. But I think on the other hand, it has got to be done. I am not into meetings that much, even in my own church. I just get on with the job and let the Lord teach me what I have to do. The most important thing to me is that people come to church, not be chased away from church because it’s boring. It has got to have a life, it has got to flow and it has got to have a joy. There has to be expression.

I see great people of God who are probably finding their own space. Some have a lot of fears, especially in dealing with the Aboriginal issues we are bringing up, such as the preamble. Last night [discussing proposed changes to the preamble to the church’s Constitution] it was really good how things panned out. There are a lot of people and a lot of questions.

I think there are a lot of people who fear Aborigines. They talk about our spirituality and how they can’t understand it, that it is “so great”. In the Western world it is all about the mind — connected to the mind, never connected to the spirit. I think that is where a lot of the dilemma lies because they have to reason and debate and they cannot just see it simple like Jesus said. He always used parables to simplify everything for people to understand what the spiritual world is all about. He told stories. And he used nature as the symbols: How does the leaf grow? Who colours it? It is God.

I think the Uniting Church is a great stepping stone for our people, Indigenous people. They are further ahead than any other church in looking at the First Nation and bringing us out from where we were. Our history is very, very bad and we have come a long way. But we are still struggling from the justice systems and the law. The law is not right for us. We see it as genocide.

I am dealing with a lot of things up in Brisbane at the moment where some Aboriginal people have spent a lot of time in jail and they still cannot go home after they have done their time. And my heart cries for them because I have them come to my church. I am praying to God and saying, “God, why is this happening to our people? Why can’t they be free?” And all these laws that came here are not a natural thing, and we do not understand them. I heard one person say, “I’m free but I’m not free. I can’t go home and see my children, I can’t see my family. Otherwise I’ll breach my probation.”

Has anything emerged so far that has been a surprise to you?

I am trying to find myself in these meetings. It is probably my first time in a big meeting. We have just come from a conference in Perth and I only had four days at home before I came here. The national conference is very eye-opening for me and trying to observe is sometimes hard because there is too much to take in. I think the new President is a very nice fella and has a different personality to our Moderator in Queensland, Bruce Johnson. We can feel the difference between them. We can also sense the attitudes and feelings of people towards us — good and bad.

But I am seeing a lot of good things. I think a lot of people here maybe have their eyes opened a little bit too. We are surprised by how far we have come. We picked the front seats and this is the first time we have had front seats. We chose to be up the front and not sit down the back. And I think it is surprising to us that we are even having a voice at these meetings now. We talked about how good that it is and how it is surprising us that people are accepting us. So we are happy about what is going on. I only wish it wasn’t so long. I want to get home. (Laughs).

Rodney Minniecon is a Pastor in Zillmere, in Brisbane, QLD. He is a member of the Assembly from the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congres