Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ernabella Church Restoration

Last week I had the privilege of being in Ernabella for 5 days leading to a service of dedication of the renovated church on Palm Sunday. Ernabella (Pukatja) is a 5 hour drive south west of Alice Springs. A Presbyterian mission started there in 1937 and the church was built in 1952. Some years ago it fell into disrepair and, because of its damaged asbestos roof, was declared unsafe. Since then the community has worshipped outside adjacent to the church building. With the oversight of the Ernabella community, and the help of a government grant, numerous volunteer church work parties, some amazing work by Northern Synod staff and volunteers from different states, the renovation is now complete. It was great to see the church packed to overflowing on Palm Sunday with locals and many vistors from around Australia.

I'd been invited to go up a few days earlier to lead some bible studies because the commuity there wanted to prepare spiritually for the big day so that not only the building was renewed. We had a great few days of fellowship, study, sharing, prayer and worship.

It became clear to me that Ernabella has a more positive 'mission story' than some other indigenous communities. It was ahead of its time in terms of early commitments to honouring the language and culture, solidarity in land rights and other justice  issues and developing local leadership and responsibility. It was clear that there remain deep and respectful relationships between the local church community and those who came to serve there over the years.

Ernabella has had its share of struggles and challenges over the years. In my Palm Sunday sermon I noted that Palm Sunday was probably a better day tomark such an occasion than, say, Easter Day. Palm Sunday has that note of festivity and celebration as Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. But there is also the note of future struggle and threat. At Ernabella last week both elements were present. A strong celebration of the past and hopefulness for the future. But also an awareness of the challenges facing indigenous people in this country in general, and the particular challenges facing the Pitjitjanjara people in the present.

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