August 31 – Liyapidiny Marika O.A.M.

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

20 – Liyapidiny Marika O.A.M., Christian pioneer

The Rev. Liyapidiny Marika was the first Yolngu woman (Aboriginal woman from the North East Arnhem region of Northern Territory) to be ordained as a Minister of the Word in the Uniting Church in Australia.

She was born in 1945 at Yirrkala, then a Methodist Mission, into the Gumana family. There she grew up, married into the Marika family and raised three children. In 1970, she became a full time Health Worker among her own people. She devoted herself to this work and was awarded an O.A.M. in 1981 in recognition of her service. During these years, she was daily involved in the physical, mental and spiritual suffering of her people and her concern for their future welfare deepened.

At the same time, she was an Elder of the Yirrkala congregation and experienced God moving by the Holy Spirit in the lives of her people. This led her to resign her position as Health Worker in 1986 and begin training for the ordained ministry at Nungalinya College in Darwin. In September 1991 she was ordained as a Minister of the Word and took up placement in the Yirrkala Parish. As the first ordained Aboriginal woman, her ministry was not always accepted but she would say, “God called me, even though I am a woman, to do His Ministry.”

In her placement at Yirrkala, she worked hard, faithfully serving the people and reaching out with the message of God’s love to the whole community, even though at times she found the work difficult. Her gifts were recognised by the wider church and she provided leadership in Bible Studies, seminars and as a lecturer at Nungalinya College. Her insights through her teaching and preaching were well received and she was an inspiration to many people beyond her homeland.

She travelled widely and enjoyed fellowship with women of other cultures, sharing their joys and sorrows. In 1990 in Malaysia, she walked arm in arm with her Asian sisters teaching them her theme song “Bind us together, Lord”. Even though her Asian sisters knew no English, they learnt the song and its meaning as an expression of solidarity with their Yolngu sister. One of her greatest thrills was to travel to the Holy Land and retrace the steps of Jesus.

Throughout her ministry, she never ceased to give leadership and share love. She was a strong supporter of the role of women in leadership and in the ministry of the church, pioneering ordination for women among her own people. She died on 31st August 1998 having given herself unsparingly in service to her Lord and to her people.

Adapted from Northern Synod Memorial Minute October 1998.