The Uniting Church Turns Forty
When a person turns forty, he or she is regarded as mature, stable and experienced. This is very different from turning twenty-one, full of youthful expectation of exciting years ahead. When in 1998 the Uniting Church celebrated its twenty-first birthday, our minister, the Rev Dr Allen Edwards, wrote the following article in TALK:
So our "baby" turns 21! Hardly seems possible, does it? Many of us were involved in the many, many discussions and negotiations which preceded the birth of the Uniting Church in 1977. The gestation of this church was very long, and it was a complex birth. Does this mean that 21 years is not long enough to attain real maturity? Hardly. In these 21 years, the UCA has developed some far-reaching, insightful policies which have contributed to the Australian community, and given significant impetus to the ecumenical movement. In a time of increasingly rapid change throughout the world community, the UCA has, with enthusiasm typical of youth, taken up the challenges facing most churches through an ageing population, changing economic circumstances, different expressions of faith, disenchantment among young people with institutional faith, different relationships with government (especially in regard to funding issues), the growth of Pentecostal ministries, the rapidly changing faces of the communities in which we are situated (including development of different moral and ethical views).It has not been an easy time in which to grow up as a church. The shifting sands of change throughout society (felt by every denomination) have been frequently interpreted by some as pointing to deficiencies in the church itself.
And the church has had to face difficulties in bringing together three different traditions (at least three!) and developing institutional structures which will feel comfortable for all, and still serve the needs of this growing church. Some changes are inevitable, and we are seeing some significant changes happening now (e.g. changing to one "Church Council" in each congregation.... there'll be more of this later this year as our Parish Council and Council of Elders explore the implications for Scots).
The first birthday cake! Rev Ian Tanner, Helen Driver, and Nairn Kerr in 1977.
But, all in all, we have to say the Uniting Church is in good heart. We have been through a turbulent adolescence, and there are signs that, as a church, we are facing our responsibilities to be an effective witness for Christ in the world, encouraging our members to grow in their own faith, and share that with others as part of our total response to Christ's prayer, “that they may all be one!”
The current President of the Uniting Church, Mr Stuart McMillan, has written:
Here we stand almost 40 years later. There’s a lot to celebrate. We have developed a ministry that values the gifts of women and men, lay and ordained.
We sought reconciliation between First and Second Peoples by apologising for the sins of the past and walking alongside our Indigenous sisters and brothers.
We have maintained strong, principled positions on issues of justice and peace, notably the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.
The UnitingCare network is one of the largest providers of community services in Australia.
We have declared that we are a multicultural Church and are working to give fuller expression to the richness of our culturally and linguistically diverse community.
We have declared that a person’s sexual orientation should not be a bar to full participation or leadership in the life of our Church.
The way we make decisions in councils of our Church remains open and inclusive.
These are just some of the ways the Spirit has led us. I’m sure you have your own highlights or things you’re proud of. As we join in celebration, reflection and prayer, as we give thanks to God for our past and present blessings and pray for God’s love which has sustained us in our first 40 years to continue to nourish us for the next 40 and beyond.
Stuart McMillan, President, Uniting Church in Australia
*Mägayamirri Rom means “the way of peace and tranquillity, harmony with the whole of creation, be with and within you.” in the Yolŋu languages of North East Arnhem Land.
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