The formation of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress has a long history. The following timeline provides an overview of key dates:
- From 1891 onwards the Presbyterian Church established work at Mapoon, Weipa, Aurukun and Mornington Island, with a mission agency on Thursday Island. Mission work was also begun in the Kimberleys in 1911 and in the Pitjantjatjara area in 1934.
- From 1916 onwards the Methodist Church established mission stations at Goulburn Island, Milingimbi, Yirrkala. Elcho Island and Croker Island. The headquarters for this work was in Darwin. Later the Methodists also began working among Aboriginal people in Brisbane and Townsville.
- In 1965 Rev Jim Dowling of the Congregational Church went to work among Aboriginal people in Alice Springs, and continued that work for many years.
- In 1977 the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches combined to form the Uniting Church in Australia. All the ministry activities with Aboriginal people therefore became part of the Uniting Church.
- Nungalinya College began teaching its first students in 1976. Wontulp-Bi-Buya, a branch of Nungalinya was established in Queensland in 1982. Since then the Yalga-binbi Institute for Community Development has also commenced training Indigenous leaders in Townsville, Queensland. These colleges are training our Aboriginal and Islander people and others to assume Christian leadership roles within the Congress.
- In 1979 a revival commenced in Elcho Island and hundreds of people made commitments to Jesus Christ. This movement spread quickly through Arnhem Land and throughout other Aboriginal communities, especially in Western Australia. God’s holy spirit was impacting directly on Aboriginal and Islander people without going through missionaries.
- Around this time an outspoken Aboriginal activist and minister at the West End congregation in Townsville, Charles Harris, reported to the Presbytery of North Queensland that national and state church leaders would be invited to a meeting at Crystal Creek just north of Townsville for a threefold meeting: developing an Australian theology related to Indigenous issues; challenging the churches to take action on these issues; and developing a Christian commitment to the struggle of the oppressed people of Australia.
- In 1982 this important meeting took place at Crystal Creek just north of Townsville. It was here that Aboriginal Christians began to talk about their own organisation. They believed that God was leading them to set this up, and so plans were made for a completely autonomous, Indigenous body within the Uniting Church.
The Establishment of Congress
- The meeting at Crystal Creek in 1982 affirmed the plans for a nation-wide Aboriginal and Islander Christian organisation. To help to make this happen, a national conference was called together at Galiwin’ku Elcho Island in August 1983.
- This meeting brought traditional and urban Christian people together. One of the UAICC’s main founders Charles Harris challenged people to take up the call to discipleship. Small groups reported on such important matters as evangelism, ministry, stewardship, land rights, culture, housing, politics, employment, youth work and racism. The meeting decided to set up a national organisation called the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress. Charles then sent people out with the stirring words: History has been created. God’s purpose has been fulfilled. Be advocates of peace. Let us break down the walls of racism. As we go forward, the gates of hell will not prevail against us.
- The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress was under way!
- In 1985, the Assembly of the Uniting Church unanimously welcomed and agreed to officially support what Aboriginal and Islander people were seeking – the formation of the Congress. Subsequently the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress came into being.
- In every State, people formed regional committees. In Queensland the regional committee became known as Calvary Presbytery. In the North and Centre, it became known as the Northern Regional Council of Congress. In other parts of Australia the state-wide bodies are known just as regional committees.
- Since 1985, there has been significant growth in the Congress in many different parts of Australia. Aside from holistic ministry across the nation, the Congress runs a range of community development programs ranging from boarding schools, a construction company, an Indigenous tourism enterprise to retirement village, publishing business, adult education courses, funeral services and Indigenous radio programs to name a few. For more information on UAICC Congregations and their activities and Congress incorporated bodies see map of Australia.