The Uniting Church in Australia
) was formed on June 22 1977
when many congregation
of the Methodist Church of Australasia
, Presbyterian Church of Australia
, and Congregational Union of Australia
came together under the Basis of Union
The third largest Christian denomination in Australia (the Roman Catholic and the Anglican churches are larger) the Uniting Church has around 243,000 members in 2,500 congregations.
According to the Australian Census in 2006 there are 1,135,427 people identifying some sort of association with the Uniting Church. The National Church Life Survey (NCLS) research indicates that approximately 10% of these people attend a church worship gathering frequently.
The Uniting Church is governed by a number of non-hierarchical inter-related councils that each have responsibility for various functions or roles within the denomination. The meetings of councils include:
The membership of each council is established by the Constitution. Each council includes both women and men, and lay (non-ordained) and ordained people. The offices of President of Assembly, Moderator of Synod (who chair these councils), and other such offices are open to all members of the UCA, whether lay or ordained, male or female.
The UCA is a non-episcopal church, that is it has no bishops. The leadership and pastoral role in the UCA is performed by Presbytery as a body (meeting). However, many members appear to understand the 'Chairperson of Presbytery' or the 'Moderator' of the Synod as exercising this role. This position may be occupied by an ordained minister or a lay person. In many Presbyteries there is also a 'Presbytery Officer' who may be ordained or a lay-minister. The Presbytery Officer in many cases functions as a Pastoral Minister, a pastor to the pastors (a Pastor Pastorum) to people in ministry. Other Presbyteries use this position for mission consultancy work and others for administrative work.
The national Assembly meets every three years, and is chaired by a national President
. The 11th Assembly met in Brisbane
, The current President is the Reverend Gregor Henderson
, formerly General Secretary of the UCA and currently chair of Christian World Service of the National Council of Churches in Australia
. He was preceded by the Reverend Dr Dean Drayton
The President-elect is the Reverend Alistair Macrae. Mr Macrae, Principal of the Centre for Theology and Ministry, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, will succeed the Reverend Gregor Henderson when the Assembly next meets in 2009.
For a list of Assembly dates, locations, and leaders, see below.
Between the Assembly meetings, the business of Assembly is conducted by the Assembly Standing Committee that meets three times a year, usually March, July and November. Membership of the committee is drawn from around Australia with 18 people elected at each Assembly.
The Synods meet regularly. Some Synods meet every year (e.g. NSW-ACT). Others meet every eighteen months or every two years (e.g. Queensland
and South Australia
There are six Synods (see http://uca.org.au/synods.htm):
Generally each Synod comprises a number of Presbyteries.
South Australia has moved to unitary Presbytery-Synod model and implemented networks of congregations with similar interests or characteristics within this structure.
It is at the level of the Presbytery that decisions are made regarding:
- selection of canditure to ministry:
- placement of ministers
are the church locally. They are the setting of regular worship, generally meeting on Sundays, many churches also conduct worship services
at other times, for example a monthly weekday service
, a late-night service for day shift workers, cafe church
, or Saturday or Friday evenings.
A meeting of the Congregation must be held at least twice each year. This meeting(s) typically considers and approves the budget, any over-arching policy matters of a local nature, property matters (which have to be ratified by Presbytery and Synod agencies) and the 'call' (employment) of a new minister or other staff.
Congregations manage themselves through a Council. All Elders are members, as are ministers with pastoral responsibility for the congregation, there may also be other members. The Council meets regularly and is responsible for approving the times of the worship services and other matters.
There are some united congregations. In some locations, the UCA has joined with other churches (such as Baptist and Churches of Christ in Australia. There are also a range of cooperative arrangements where resourcing ministry to congregations is not possible, particularly in rural and remote areas.
'Faith communities' are less structured than congregations. They are groupings of people who gather together for worship, witness or service and choose to be recognised by the Presbytery.
Local churches are often also used by congregations of other church denominations. For example, a Tongan Seventh-day Adventist congregation may make arrangements to meet in the building on a Saturday.
The UCA is predominantly anglo, however it is committed to being inclusive and there are a number of multicultural arrangements, with Korean, Tongan, and other groups forming congregations of the church.
Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress
The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress
(UAICC) is sometimes referred to simply as Congress
. The UAICC is formally recognised and enabled within the Constitution as having responsibility for oversight of the ministry of the Church with the Aboriginal and Islander people of
A Synod may at the request of a Regional Committee of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress prescribe that the Regional Committee may have and exercise all or specific rights, powers, duties and responsibilities of a Presbytery under this Constitution and the Regulations (including ordination and other rights, powers and responsibilities relating to Ministers) for the purpose of fulfilling any responsibility of the Regional Committee for Uniting Church work with Aboriginal and Islander people
within the bounds of the Synod.
as a whole is the largest operator of general social care activities in Australia, including being the largest operator of aged care facilities. Other activities include: 'central missions'; shelters and emergency housing for men, women, and children; family relationships support; disability services; food kitchens for underprivileged people (example: Exodus Foundation
at Ashfield Uniting Church in Sydney
Assembly and Synods have a number of other 'agencies', examples are:
- Theology and Discipleship"
- Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (the UAICC operates in many ways as a Synod) collectively represents the Indigenous Australians who are members of the Christian church. It is estimated that there are between 10000 and 15000 people involved.
- UnitingCare Australia
- UnitingJustice Australia
- NSW - Rural Evangelism and Mission
- WA - Social Justice and Uniting International Mission
- Vic/Tas - Working Group on Christian-Jewish relations
- SA - Mission Resourcing Network
- QLD - Youth And Children's Ministry Unit (YACMU)
The UCA provides theological training and ministerial formation through a number of theological colleges. All of these are members of ecumenical theological consortia, such as the Adelaide College of Divinity
, the Brisbane College of Theology
and the long established Melbourne College of Divinity
. Generally training takes five years and involves substantial supervised practical experience. For example Parkin-Wesley College
is a member of the Adelaide College of Divinity
The UCA is also associated with a number of schools and residential university colleges, for example in Adelaide, among others there are Westminster School, Scotch College, Pedare Christian College, Prince Alfred College, Annesley College and Lincoln College.
In Brisbane, the Uniting Church established Moreton Bay College in the early 20th century. The college located at the bayside suburb, Manly West.
Christian education is provided for all members of the Uniting Church, for all ages, through local congregations and agencies such as Coolamon College.
The National Christian Youth Convention
is a national UCA activity, run in school and university holidays in January every second year in a different city. NCYC 2007 Agents of Change
was held in Perth, Western Australia
NCYC09: Converge is the place to be in January 2009: Melbourne, Victoria. Key speakers include Shane Claiborne, Amie Dural and Robyn Whitaker, along with young 'up and comers' Daniel Todd and Fa Ngaluafe. Bands include Scat Jazz, Simeon, 2-11, Raize, poet Cameron Semmens, and Margaret Helen King. NCYC09 will be held at the State Netball and Hockey Centre, Parkville, on of the premium sporting venues in Melbourne.
NCYC attracts over 1,500 young people aged 16-30 from around the nation plus visiting delegations from overseas. Leadership is by a local organising taem, but NCYC is a national event. In recent years a university campus and its accommodation has been the base for event.
NCYC began in 1955 with an evangelical campaign run by the Reverend Sir Alan Walker as an activity of the then Central Methodist Mission in Sydney.
Ministry in the UCA
The role of the laity
is valued in the UCA, recognising that ministry is a function of the whole Church and all members. However, certain specific roles or "specified ministries" are defined. Of these, the role of elder
are open to lay members
There are two orders of ordained ministry in the Uniting Church, these are:
In situations where it is not possible or desired to have an ordained minister a Lay Pastor (which grew out of the Methodist local preacher tradition) or Lay Ministry Teams may minister, particularly in rural areas.
The UCA was one of the first Australian churches to grant self-determination to its Indigenous Australian members through the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress.
Partnerships also continue with South Pacific and Asian churches, especially those which share a Congregational, Presbyterian or Methodist heritage. An increasing number of ethnic churches worship in their own languages as well as in English.
The UCA has a strongly felt and argued sense of social justice. It has taken stances on issues such as native title for Indigenous people, the Environment, Apartheid, status of refugees, and provision of safe injection facilities for drug users. These stances have been expressed in practical involvement as well as in political comment and advocacy. One prominent activist is Dave Andrews, a founder of West End's Waiter's Union, which is a structureless yet acclaimed mission for the neighboorhood's needy.
the UCA is varied, practice ranges from experimental liturgies, informal worship reminiscent of the 'Jesus Revolution' of the 1970s to conventional reformed
services. Music is likewise varied, from traditional hymns especially from the superseded but still popular Australian Hymn Book
and Contemporary Christian music
to hard Christian alternative music
and Christian metal
Since 1997 most of these councils and agencies have operated under the consensus decision-making
procedures outlined in the church's Manual for Meetings
. These procedures may use orange ('support') and blue ('do not support') cards, which may be displayed at many times, not just when a vote is called. The idea behind this is about trying to hear the Spirit of God through the gathered community rather than through individuals.
This system was suggested to the World Council of Churches by the UCA, and first used at its formal meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil in February 2006. Consensus: a colourful farewell to majority rule Rev. Dr H. D'Arcy Wood and Rev. Dr James Haire, former presidents of the Uniting Church in Australia, were present to assist with the introduction of this innovation.
Commitment to ecumenism
The Uniting Church is an example of ecumenism
; it is one of a number of United Uniting churches
The Uniting Church, as were its precursors, is engaged in ecumenical activities;
The UCA is affiliated with the:
The range of theology perspectives in the UCA is broad, reflecting its Methodist
and Congregational church
origins and its commitment to ecumenism. The theology can be typified as mainline protestant
with a commitment to social justice
Theological perspectives found in the Uniting Church:
There has been considerable debate around the concerns of morality, faith, and in particular sexuality. These concerns focus on the understanding of the Bible and issues of accommodation to the dominant culture.
The establishment of the Evangelical Members within the Uniting Church in Australia (EMU) was, in part, as a result of their opposition to ordination of gay and lesbian candidates in the lead up to the 1997 Assembly. EMU (also previously known as Evangelical Ministers of the UCA) and The Reforming Alliance are examples of the Confessing Movement. The Confessing Movement should not be confused with the Confessing Church.
Ordination of gay and lesbian people
An issue regularly debated almost from the inception of the Uniting Church in Australia is the place of gay and lesbian people in the church, and in particular the possibility of their ordination.
The fairly broad consensus has been that a person's sexual orientation should not be a bar to attendance, membership or participation in the life of the church. More controversial has been the issue of sexual activity by gay and lesbian people (in terms of godly living), and arising from this, the question of appropriate behaviour for ordination candidates.
- 1982 Assembly Standing Committee (ASC) decided that sexual orientation was not a bar to ordination and left the decision about candidature with the Presbytery.
- 1997 Assembly after an emotional debate, a decision on the issue was not made
- 2000 Assembly decided not to discuss the issue of sexuality.
- 2003 Assembly attempted to clarify the church's earlier position:
- a resolution was passed recognising that people within the UCA had interpreted the scriptures with integrity in coming to two opposed views
- That based on these different views, some concluded that a gay or lesbian person in a committed relationship could be ordained as a minister and others not.
- The recognition of the two positions failed to distinguish between orientation and behaviour, this surprised many as it went further than the 1982 Assembly Standing Committee decision.
- Post 2003 Assembly:
- Uniting Network, a group for supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender UCA members welcomed the decision. Although some saw it as a compromise from their preferred position. (Uniting Network formed out of bi-annual gatherings of gay Christians begun in 1994.)
- many members of the UCA and particularly EMU condemned the decision
- The Reforming Alliance was set up - representing EMU, many ethnic congregations and the many in the UAICC.
- The ASC subsequently varied the wording of the resolution to remove reference to specific positions, so as not to affirm any particular standard of sexual ethics. The ASC also issued an apology that better communication did not occur leading up to 2003 Assembly
- Leading up to the 2006 Assembly, a church wide process of response, reflection and preparation has been initiated.
- 2006 Assembly considered the matter again and did not reach consensus:
- Members of its 11th Assembly meeting in Brisbane agreed they were "not of one mind" on the issue of accepting into ministry people who were living in a committed same-gender sexual relationships.
- They said that "notwithstanding the hopes of many in the church", the Assembly "is not prepared to exercise further its determining responsibility in this matter".
- The key elements in the Assembly’s resolution:
- "our acknowledgment and lament that the 10th Assembly decision was a catalyst for concern and pain in the church;
- an assurance that congregations who do not wish to receive into placement a minister who is living in a committed same-sex relationship will not be compelled to do so, and that congregations willing to have such a minister will have their decision respected;
- a request to our Working Group on Doctrine to assist the church in its ongoing consideration of our theological diversity on this issue;
- a call to the whole church to recommit itself to its primary purposes of worship, witness and service."
The Assembly resolution and subsequent material from the ASC made it clear that when Presbyteries select candidates for ministry they may be guided by a Presbytery commitment to a particular approach to sexual ethics, but each determination of candidature must still be made on a case by case basis.
Assembly, Dates, Leaders and Locations
(President; General Secretary)
1. June 1977 J Davis McCaughey
; Winston O’Reilly
; Sydney, New South Wales
2. May 1979 Winston O’Reilly; Winston O’Reilly to December 1979; Melbourne, Victoria
3. May 1982 Rollie Busch; David Gill from January 1980 ; Adelaide, South Australia
4. May 1985 Ian Tanner; David Gill; Sydney
5. May 1988 Ronald Wilson
; David Gill to July 1988; Melbourne
6. July 1991 H. D'Arcy Wood
; Gregor Henderson
from January 1989; Brisbane, Queensland
7. July 1994 Jill Tabart; Gregor Henderson; Sydney
8. July 1997 John E Mavor; Gregor Henderson; Perth, Western Australia
9. July 2000 James Haire
; Gregor Henderson; Adelaide
10. July 2003 Dean Drayton
; Terence Corkin from January 2001; Melbourne
11. July 2006 Gregor Henderson
; Terence Corkin; Brisbane
- The Uniting Church in Australia (UCA for initials) is an Australian church group only, there are no instances elsewhere (although the equivalent United Church of Canada was formed in 1925).
- The Uniting Church in Australia is the third largest church denomination (after Catholic and Anglican).
- About 5-7% of the membership worships in languages other than English, including Aboriginal tribal languages.
- It has 48 schools, ranging from long-established schools with large enrolments to small recently established low-fee schools.
Official Uniting Church sites
Continuing Congregational Churches: