|Uniting Church in Australia|
|Merger:||Methodist Church of Australasia, Presbyterian Church of Australia, and Congregational Union of Australia|
|Fellowships:||Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress|
|Associations:||NCCA, WCC, CCA, WARC, World Methodist Council|
The Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) was formed on June 22 1977 when many congregations of the Methodist Church of Australasia, Presbyterian Church of Australia, and Congregational Union of Australia came together under the Basis of Union.
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, Queensland in 2006, 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).
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:
Congregations 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.
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 ofAustralia.
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 peoplewithin the bounds of the Synod.
UnitingCare 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:
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.
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 MLC, in Kew.
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 team, but NCYC is a national event. In recent years a university campus and its accommodation has been the base for event.
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 and Pastor are open to lay members.
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 neighborhood's needy.
Liturgically 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 through Hillsong 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.
The Uniting Church is an example of ecumenism; it is one of a number of uniting-united churches globally.
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, Presbyterian 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.
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.
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.
(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