A conversation with Rev Robert Jetta on Covenanting, and his ministry with the Waroona Uniting Church. This story by Wendy Hendry was first published in the July 2023 edition of Revive Magazine.
On a Tuesday in early April I gathered with the Covenanting Commission in the Waroona Uniting Church. The worship space was adorned with palm fronds from the Palm Sunday service just a few days before.
Last year during a meeting of the Covenanting Commission it was agreed to take the meeting to the regional town, where the Co- Chairperson of the Commission, who is also the Chairperson of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) WA Regional Committee Rev Robert Jetta lives and works. The Waroona congregation where he is a minister is the only combined First and Second People’s congregation in Australia, a joint UAICC and UCA church community.
Holding the meetings in the regional town was felt to be an important part of Covenanting in action, a way of walking together as first and second peoples. This was the second meeting the Commission have held in Waroona since last year. By having the meetings in the community it allowed for local UAICC members to attend and contribute who would normally find it harder to travel to Perth for the meeting due to time and distance. The visits also facilitated some general maintenance work which was carried out by volunteers who were either connected to, or members of the Commission and was received with thanks by the local congregation.
Covenanting is at the heart of the Uniting Church. In 1994, the Uniting Church in Australia formally entered into a Covenant with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress so that together we may contribute to a more just church and nation.
The Covenanting Commission WA is an elected commission of the Synod, Co-Chaired by the Chairperson of the UAICC WA Regional Committee and the Moderator of the Uniting Church WA, who’s role is to provide an interaction between the work of the UAICC, the Synod and the Presbytery. The Commission also has a role of encouraging and assisting congregations, agencies and other activities of the Uniting Church to be involved in the ministry of reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the other parts of the Uniting Church and the community.
Covenanting Action Plan
In 2021, the Covenanting Commission prepared a Congregation Covenanting Guide resource called ‘Walking together as First and Second Peoples’ for use in congregations. The resource was developed to provide a simple list of suggested actions congregations can take to progress their Covenanting journey.
At the 46th Annual Meeting of the Synod of Western Australia last year, it was agreed the WA Synod would ‘Refresh the Covenant’
and to work on a Covenanting Action Plan to outline specific and measurable steps the Synod can take to progress our Covenanting relationship. The view was that Covenanting is a whole Synod responsibility, not just one of a small Commission. A report will come to the 47th Annual Meeting in September on how this Covenanting Action Plan can be developed and progressed.
Rev Robert Jetta, known in the community as Uncle Robbie, was ordained at the 14th Triennial Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia in 2015. As well as being a UAICC chaplain at the time, he was also in a ministry role at the Waroona Uniting Church.
Uncle Robbie has strong family connections in the Waroona area and surrounds. He is now the recognised Nyungar Elder for the area, a role passed on to him from his late father. He is often asked to deliver Welcome to Country at community activities and ceremonies. As a Minister and an Elder his pastoral care and relationship building extends beyond the congregation into the community. Only recently he was introduced by the Shire President prior to conducting a Welcome, as a Reverend. He was happy to be recognized both as a Nyungar Elder and as a Christian Minister. When he turned 60, Uncle Robbie was presented with a certificate from the local Shire for his contribution to the community as part of the NAIDOC Week celebrations.
Of course Rev Jetta isn’t alone in his ministry in the Waroona Uniting Church. He is supported by other members of the congregation like Jennifer and Daphne who contribute their own form of ministry in the church and community. He’s thankful for their commitment in pastoral care and reaching out to congregation members. Jennifer is the secretary and runs the Sunday School, Daphne is the treasurer, and they are both church elders. The church currently offer weekly Sunday morning services. They feel it is important to have the door open. They love their building and the mix of generations that are a part of the congregation and have been a part of the church in its long history.
The importance of the Covenant
As we gathered for a meal at the picturesque Drakesbrook Weir following the Covenanting Commission meeting, we discussed the role of the Commission, and what it meant for the Commission meeting to gather in this place. Rev Jetta felt the Commission had a role in helping to raise awareness of UAICC and the importance of the Covenant. He felt the Covenanting Action Plan for the Synod would be one way to increase this awareness and keep covenanting in focus for the church and people.
At a gathering in Kalamunda last year on a forum to discuss the Uluru Statement from the Heart Rev Jetta spoke about the Covenant saying that to him, it was like in the Bible where they made covenants, for example the one between David and Jonathan. They said they would die before they broke their covenant. That’s how important it is.
The Congregation Covenanting Guide, Walking Together as First and Second Peoples can be downloaded here.