Next month is the Uniting Church in Australia’s 40th birthday. What memories are conjured up for you as you look back to 22nd June 1977? I was a student at a Methodist girls’ school in Sydney. I had no understanding of the many years of prayer and negotiation, heartache and theological debate that led to this historic moment. For me, it meant a slight name change to our school.
The headmistress and the chaplain talked a little about it, but as a schoolgirl I wasn’t much interested in documents such as The Basis of Union.
Nor did I even vaguely comprehend what it would have meant for church members to surrender their old familiar liturgical framework and adopt a new one.
Liturgy, property, foundational beliefs, episcopal or non-hierarchical? All important considerations, but what was at the very heart of this union was a belief in one body, one Church, built upon the One Lord Jesus Christ.
If you haven’t read the foundational document recently, it is worth rediscovering. The Basis of Union consists of a mere 18 paragraphs, outlining how the Uniting Church came together, what its purpose is, how it will manage itself, the centrality of Christ and other essential tenets.
Paragraph 11 reminds the Uniting Church that its foundation is built upon the Scriptures. God will provide scholars to the Church who can interpret the Scriptures within a contemporary and changing society.
It is this willingness to consider a faithful response to the Living God, using ‘fresh words and deeds’ that some see as the Uniting Church’s greatest point of difference.
The ordination of women had already been resolved by its predecessor churches, and yet gender continues to be a significant issue for other Protestant churches. Sex has always been a hot button topic for most religions, and yet in the 1990s the Uniting Church bravely established a task group to investigate sexuality. (See page 16)
Even the Union itself led to division as some churches within the Presbyterian Church chose not to take part.
It can be painful to be a trail blazer. The Uniting Church is currently in the midst of a discernment and listening process in regard to marriage equality.
What will the next 40 years look like for the Uniting Church … a church known for its advocacy, inclusion and advocacy? A Church that changed its preamble to acknowledge the First Peoples who had encountered God before the arrival of the colonisers. A church committed to being multicultural and intercultural.
May the Church continue to pray “that it may be ready when occasion demands to confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds” (BoU Para 11). You are invited to join UCA leaders who are embarking on a 40-day journey of prayer from Sunday 14 May.