Forty years ago, the inaugural Assembly of the Uniting Church issued a Statement to the Nation. This statement outlines the Uniting Church’s desire to be involved in “social and national affairs”. The Church engages with our neighbours worldwide but particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. The statement commits the Uniting Church to basic Christian values of the “importance of every human being”, “the need for integrity in public life” and “a concern for the welfare of the whole human race”.
Because of these principles, we as a church will work to end injustice, to protect the environment, challenge greed in the face of the growing gap between the rich and the poor and be concerned for the rights of future generations.
The Uniting Church at its inauguration made these commitments because our first allegiance is to God and God’s prophetic, justice-seeking, life-restoring way. Because we owe God our first loyalty, we will seek to be loyal to this commitment even when it brings us into conflict with others.
Eleven years later, in the bicentennial year of European settlement, the Assembly issued a second Statement to the Nation. This statement addressed what was by then a glaring omission in the first Statement to the Nation – the dispossession, injustice and disadvantage First Peoples have suffered since their land was occupied.
The statement commits us to stand together in seeking truth, justice and action for First Peoples.
These two statements articulate something very important about the vocation and identity of the Uniting Church.
They affirm that we seek to live together with our neighbours and communities and to be engaged citizens of our nation. They call us to live alongside others of diverse faiths and cultures, seeking their wellbeing as an expression of the wellbeing we have from knowing we are loved by God.
As with any vocation, we need to live into this one. Wishful thinking does not create a just, welcoming community, nation or world. Rather it requires thoughtful, engaged participation. These two statements to the nation remind us that we are called by the Gospel and by the Uniting Church to engage with our neighbourhoods, communities, governments and the world and to seek their welfare.
The statements to the nation arise from and reflect the theology of the Basis of Union. The Basis of Union (para 3) states that reconciling ministry of Christ is at the heart of our self-understanding. Our mission is found in being a fellowship of reconciliation willing to give of ourselves and our resources to live in ways that reconcile humanity to the earth and nations to each other.
To live as a church shaped by the commitments of the Basis of Union and the Statements to the Nation is not always easy. Justice is illusive. At times our nation seems to be becoming meaner, more racist, less welcoming.
Our activism and advocacy for peace, justice and care of creation often seem to achieve little. We can become downhearted.
The Basis of Union reminds us we are not left alone in the pilgrimage of discipleship. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit, the promise that Christ constantly renews the church, and the sacraments to sustain us (para 9). We have the gift of hope from God who is with us so that we might give ourselves again and again to the work of living for others in pursuit of a kinder, fairer world.
And we have the promise that God will bring all things to completion at the end of time. God’s reign will come. The arc of history is bending towards God’s ways.
While the Statement to the Nation has been influential for many individual members of the Uniting Church, it is essentially a communal statement. It serves as a constant reminder to the Uniting Church that one of its charisms is to be a church standing alongside the poor, victims of injustice and the suffering earth.
Fulfilling this vocation cannot be left to the Assembly or to synod staff. It needs to be reflected on and lived into by every congregation and faith community.
It is core to who we are as people reconciled to God through the self-giving love of Jesus Christ.
I am so grateful for the wisdom of the first and fifth Assemblies in laying out a vision of Christian discipleship that takes seriously the world and its suffering and commits us to be engaged in justice-seeking, peace-making and community-building as expressions of our faith.
As we move towards the 40th anniversary of union and the first Statement to the Nation, I invite us all to consider how we might live even more fully into these Statements as an expression of our commitment to follow Christ.
How might we take this anniversary year as an invitation to recommit to go forward in God’s self-giving love?
What might your congregation or community of faith gift to the local community? What would it mean to live and act for the welfare of those you live among? How might this gift bear witness to the love of God and reconciling ministry of Jesus Christ?
The main celebrations in this synod for the 40th anniversary will be an intercultural celebration on 3 June and at the service to open the Synod meeting on 8 September. More details soon.
Everyone is invited to participate in the Assembly’s 40 days of prayer for renewal (assembly.uca.org.au/news/item/2566-to-40-and-beyond-a-message-from-the-president)