The bells of St Andrew's Cathedral rang out over Sydney Tuesday night in honour of the #ChangetheHeart "call to prayer" that Aunty Jean Phillips, one of the most senior Aboriginal Christian leaders in Australia, started in Brisbane to encourage Christians to engage in the process of reconciliation.

“You need us and we need you, and change will come!” Aunty Jean told an audience of more than 300. “Telling the truth of Australian history has fallen mostly on the shoulders of Aboriginal people,” she said. “We hope you will join us in telling it too.”

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Aunty Jean speaks at St Andrew's Cathedral in Sydney on Tuesday night as part of the #ChangetheHeart initiative. PICTURE: Christopher Gilbert

Kanishka Raffel, Dean of St Andrew's Cathedral, welcomed Aunty Jean by thanking her for her faithful and persevering leadership in reaching out to all Australians to learn the truth about Australia’s history of broken relationship with Aboriginal people.     

Bishop Michael Stead, of South Sydney diocese, also greeted Aunty Jean and read a letter from Archbishop Glenn Davies expressing his gladness to be supporting #ChangetheHeart.  

“I pray that God will use this service to help bring about his true healing and reconciliation in this nation,”  the Archbishop wrote.

It is the fourth year Aunty Jean, supported by Brooke Prentis from Wakka Wakka country and national Christian organisation Common Grace Ministries, have toured Australia in the lead-up to Australia Day on 26th January in an effort to draw together Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Christians across all denominations to engage prayerfully in reconciliation between all Australians based on knowing the "true history" of Australia.  

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The crowded cathedral on Tuesday night. PICTURE: Christopher Gilbert

Prentis, capturing the importance and difficulty of truth telling, delivered an address from John’s Gospel 8:31-47 where Jesus begins: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

She reminded the crowd that 26th January is a day of mourning for most Aboriginal people. 

“Did you know that January 26 has been known until 1994 by half a dozen different names but only became a national Australia Day Holiday in 1994?” she asked in a “did you know?” moment in the service.  “It has even been moved around to July 30th, July 28th and in August prior to that.”

Aunty Jean explained that #ChangetheHeart services only run until 25th of January each year so as not to interfere with people wanting to celebrate the 26th as Australia Day. 

Later, the audience unanimously engaged in a "truth-telling" exercise which involved taking a heart-shaped token given at the door and laying it on a table in exchange for a strip of paper printed with one of many injustices that had previously been named in a time of prayer. By doing so audience members committed to researching the truth of the injustice they took up. 

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People take part in a "truth-telling" exercise as part of the evening at St Andrew's Cathedral in Sydney. PICTURE: Christopher Gilbert.

Don DeGraaf, a professor from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities in the US attended the evening with his wife, Kathy, and Sam, a visiting student. 

“I felt the passion and even the righteous anger of speakers, yet I did not feel that they were trying to elicit guilt, but rather an invitation to walk together to make things better into the future,” he said.  “We really appreciated the tone and leadership of Common Grace’s new executive director.”  

On Wednesday night (22nd January), St Paul's Cathedral Melbourne will host another #ChangetheHeart event. Events have already been held in a number of churches in Western Australia, Tasmania, and South Australia as well as Sydney. Still to come after Melbourne are services in Canberra, Wollongong, Newcastle, Bendigo, Hobart, Mornington Peninsula and Alice Springs, meaning by Saturday, Australian Christians will have attended 23 #ChangetheHeart services in every state and territory.

#ChangetheHeart is supported in all the events by volunteers from Common Grace. Common Grace has announced that Prentis will be their CEO starting in early February.