Uniting Church Priorities - Then and Now

Ian TannerThis month (June) we celebrate the 39th Anniversary of the Inauguration of the Uniting Church in Australia.  In South Australia in 1977 the first issue of the new church paper, the CENTRAL TIMES (now New Times) was published and its first guest columnist was the SA Moderator-elect, the Rev Ian Tanner.  Here is part of what he wrote.

You may wonder what my priorities are as I assume my new responsibilities as your moderator.  There are four emphases I want to exert, and I hope you will recognise each of them as important in your own life and the life of our church. 

I look for a renewal of personal faith.

The church is both a human and a divine community.  The initiative for the church’s life is always with the Holy Spirit, but he waits for our response.  I expect new initiatives by the Spirit of God to follow our obedience to the call to reconciliation in the church.  As each of us responds with anticipation and personal enthusiasm, then the church will grow in numbers and power.   

I look for the development of a vital congregational life.

We have made sure in planning for the Uniting Church that decisions should be made as far as possible at the local level.  We recognise that in the Uniting Church local congregations are the basic unit of church organisation and activity.

For most of us the church has its chief reality where we encounter one another in the local congregation.  Our willingness to accept and care for and work with other Christians in the local congregation is the chief index of whether our Christianity is authentically of the New Testament or whether it is only individualistic and self-seeking, and avoids relationships with other Christians.  Where the local congregations are alive and active in the shared participation in Christian life, then the church will become vital.

I look for a church which seeks the unity and fellowship of all Christians.

We believe in the unity of the church because we believe in the unity of Christ.  We therefore cannot be content because we have now participated in bringing three denominations of the church together.

We have to go on asking how we can respond to the Holy Spirit's call, both in working and witnessing with other denominations, or uniting with them as that requirement becomes clear to us.

I look for a church which will have a genuine and practical concern for human rights and justice for minorities.

Some people are concerned about the emphasis which our denominations have given to what they call the "social Gospel".  The Gospel has a trinity of responsibilities - to preach, to teach and to heal.  None of these imperatives of the Lord can be neglected.  I believe it is the healing of society which we have most neglected in the past, and to be faithful to our calling we must now ensure that all these functions of living Christianity should be vigorously exercised by our church, and not the least our concern for the basic rights of human life as far as our influence spreads.

Looking back after nearly forty years, do we recognise the church of which Ian wrote?  How would we spell out our priorities today?

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