When I look at the photos of the inauguration, I barely recognise the current Uniting Church. In the photos, the Church is represented largely by a group of older white men. The only person of colour on the stage was a guest of the World Council of Churches. The majority of female faces are schoolgirls in a choir.
While we are a long way from representing the richness and diversity that is in our Church in leadership, contemporary photos reveal we are much more culturally, gender and age diverse.
Those who worked for union, those on the stage that night 40 years ago, would not be surprised at these changes. Those who laboured for union laid the foundations for change. They were planted into the Basis of Union and into the heart of what it means to be the Uniting Church.
What strikes me every time I read the Basis of Union, or read something written by those who gave leadership to the journey of union, is that they were acting out of a deep sense that this was what the gospel of Jesus Christ demanded. Their participation in union was an act of obedience and the way they lived out their loyalty to the way of Jesus Christ in that particular time and place. So at the heart of the Basis of Union is the centrality of Christ and the absolute need to be obedient to Christ’s will for the church.
This means in our time and place a commitment to living out in an even fuller way the good news that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” (Romans 3:28). Our obedience to Christ means we welcome the gifts of people different to ourselves knowing they are given by the same Holy Spirit. It means working hard to make our congregations and councils places that welcome a diversity of ways of worshipping, of meeting and evangelising.
The Basis of Union is also committed to constant reformation. The writers of the Basis of Union and those who helped birth the Uniting Church knew that while this was their best effort to be faithful to the call of Christ, it was not perfect. They also knew that each new age would need to change to be faithful to the context in which they were living.
We have not been perfect in our living out the gospel. The addition of the preamble to the Constitution acknowledges that our relationship with the First Peoples of this land did not respect their culture or the presence of the Spirit in their law and customs.
The declaration of the Uniting Church as a multicultural church is an acknowledgement of the ways we have failed to be so and an expression of our desire to be more so. We have failed to find worship, faith formation practices and meeting styles that nourish and include the current generation of young adults fully. We confess our sin and seek the renewing gift of the Holy Spirit.
To be a church that trusts that we are constantly being renewed means we welcome the correction of the Holy Spirit. We do not look away from our shortcomings but see in them an invitation to turn back to Christ and live more faithfully as disciples of Jesus.
It will, at times, be painful. It will mean giving up cherished ways of doing things, just as union did 40 years ago. It will mean welcoming the gifts of all God’s people and allowing them to change us. It will mean confession. It will mean taking risks to follow the prompting of the Spirit. It will mean some failures along the way. It will mean leaps of faith. But we can do this because in all of this we are accompanied by the Spirit of Christ.
I am sure that in 40 years we will look back on the Church of today and be amazed at how the Spirit of God has been at work, renewing it so that it might be faithful to Jesus Christ in its time and place.
I hope that we will continue to seek the will and way of Christ for the Church. I pray that we might remain open to the movement of the Spirit calling us forward, making us new again in love.