On Friday morning of February 7th, I attended the funeral service at the Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church, for Aunty Joan Hendriks. Aunty Joan was an Elder of the Ngugi Aboriginal community who belonged to the Quandamooka people in Moreton Island on the Brisbane coast. She was the first Indigenous person appointed to the National Catholic Education Commission and was a theological educator at the Australian Catholic University in Nundah.
Aunty Joan’s funeral was a testimony to the extraordinary witness and service she has brought to Queensland, particularly in matters of the dignity of Aboriginal people and reconciliation between Aboriginal communities and others. The Friday funeral was attended by representatives of Church and state, from universities and from Aboriginal communities from around Australia with a clear witness to Aunty Joan’s life as a Christian and her active participation in the work of the Roman Catholic Church.
Pastor Stephen Nuske, previous pastor of St Andrews Lutheran Church in Brisbane city, shared with me a significant moment in the life of their Congregation regarding Aunty Joan Hendriks. He explained to me the close working relationship between Aunty Joan and past President of our Church, Pastor John Vitale. Pastor Vitale served as the founding leader of Queensland Churches Together. When Aunty Joan was commissioned to her work on the founding committee that addressed matters of Aboriginal reconciliation in Queensland, the worship service for her commissioning was held in the St Andrew’s Church with Pastor George Rosendale of the Hopevale Lutheran Community preaching for the service.
I grew up in far North Queensland, amongst Australia’s largest percentage of Aboriginal people per whole community population. There is so much that I am ashamed of, and repent of. All around me, people were miserably racist towards the Aboriginal people in our communities and I was too. We spoke poorly of Aboriginal people. We marginalized them in our communities. We did not include them or invite them to events. We used ugly racial slurs and ungodly nick names for Aboriginal people.
I thank God for the witness of Christian people like Aunty Joan, and of many others in our Churches who have worked hard to address the wrongs of the past and to ensure that we speak of Aboriginal people as beloved creations of our gracious Creator God; to speak of Aboriginal Australians as people for whom Christ Jesus died; as fellow human beings.
On the Queensland Churches Together Facebook Website, Roman Catholic Archbishop, Mark Coleridge wrote a tribute to Aunty Joan Hendriks:
“A heartfelt farewell to Aunty Joan Hendriks at the end of her long and beautiful life. Aunty Joan showed forth the depth and the richness of the Indigenous culture which gave her life and in ways both generous and gracious shared all of that with the rest of us.”
In the First letter of Peter, chapter 3, we read:
“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
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