Shoalhaven Aboriginal church turns five
The Shoalhaven Aboriginal Community Church, known As ShACC, recently marked its fifth year as a church run with, and for, the local indigenous community.
Phil Miles, the church’s pastoral worker and a former CMS missionary – who grew up in a family heavily involved in indigenous ministry – says it was an occasion marked with involvement by friends from the indigenous Christian and wider church communities.
“We had a church service at All Saints’ Anglican Church, Nowra for the anniversary,” Mr Miles says. “All Saints’ is a church that had a vision to participate in indigenous ministry, and out of that ShAAC was born. Normally we meet in rented rooms at the Anglicare offices in Nowra, but it wasn’t going to be big enough for an anniversary! We had about 100 people I think, and we had lunch together afterwards.”
Mr Miles says that ShAAC, along with similar churches in Sydney and further afield, has been important for indigenous Christians. While many people are aware of the very different cultural and historical contexts of Aboriginal and white people in rural areas, they think these differences don’t exist in a suburban context.
“Many people ask me why we need a congregation for Aboriginal people – why can’t they come to our church?” he says. “There is a sense in which Aboriginal people can do that, but if you really want to connect with and reach the Aboriginal community, you need something that’s designed to do that.
“Having a church that is theirs is critical for outreach. Reaching indigenous people is difficult, because of the history and that context, and Aboriginal people are much more aware of that than white Australians.
The concept of having their own church – a church that is theirs and is for them – means something profoundly different to Aboriginal people than it does to white people.”
However, Mr Miles says that part of the ethos of ShAAC is to create a shared experience for indigenous and white people within that Aboriginal church context.
“We have quite a number of white people involved in our church,” he says. “The subtitle, if you like, of our church is ‘A church for all people’. So although it is an Aboriginal church, it is not designed to be exclusive. Actually, having Aboriginal people and white people working together in a context where Aboriginal people feel they have some ownership is doubly special.“
Mr Miles says the anniversary was another step in creating a unique and fruitful indigenous Christian community in the Shoalhaven area.
“The anniversary was a good way of letting the community know we’re still going,” he says. “We still need to do many things in continuing to reach and welcome the Aboriginal community, but that’s difficult while we currently don’t have an Aboriginal pastor. It was exciting to mark that we have been going for five years, but it’s really a small step in a bigger process of continuing the work.”
Feature photo: View of Nowra and Shoalhaven River by Brian Yap