Forty years ago today the Uniting Church in Australia was born when Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists proclaimed their union at a worship service in the Sydney Town Hall.
The first half of the service was broadcast nationally by ABC Television, but it was the sense of camaraderie which accompanied the day many people fondly recall.
Former Associate General Secretary Peter Blackwood’s parents, Rev Ron and Jean, attended the first Assembly gathering and evening service. Dr Blackwood fondly remembers his mother being very exuberant when they returned home.
“I can recall my mother saying that a lot of people had Uniting Church stickers on their cars and when they saw a vehicle with the emblem (at traffic lights around the city) they would acknowledge one another (by tooting their car horns),’’ he said.
He said such an embrace among strangers was integral to the union.
Dr Blackwood was a theological student at time of union and watched the first half of the inaugural service live on ABC Television.
“It does sound quite extraordinary that such a church event was (broadcast) in prime time,’’ he said.
Dr Blackwood vividly recalls that the opening hymn sung by the congregation was Psalm 100 to the tune The Old 100th.
“When I have sung in a choir there are some (hymn arrangements) that have stopped me with emotion. That is one of them,’’ he said.
Being removed from Sydney did not stop church members from celebrating the occasion on June 22.
More than 800 people gathered at Camperdown’s disused Theatre Royal to watch the ABC broadcast and sing hymns, a gathering described as the biggest church event ever held in the town.
Dr Blackwood said he remembers the days following the opening service as being “very exciting.’’
While most members of the new church in Victoria and Tasmania did not attend the Sydney service large crowds gathered across the states at Inauguration Sunday ecumenical events four days later.
More than 1200 people attended a gathering of the Barwon Presbytery which was addressed by Victoria’s most senior Anglican Bishop, the Right Rev Graham Delbridge. Approximately 700 people filled the Sale Memorial Hall, in Gippsland, for an afternoon service with three speakers representing each of the uniting churches.
At an ecumenical service at St Paul’s Cathedral, in Melbourne, the heads of 11 Victorian churches and two from overseas pledged to search for unity at a service of thanksgiving.
Victorian Moderator Rev Ron Allardice received the greetings.
“I give thanks this union and share your resolve to seek that wider unity which is Christ’s will,’’ he said.
Dr Blackwood remembered a Burke Presbytery celebration event at the Camberwell Town Hall where each parish was invited to bring along a representative banner which was carried onto the main stage.
At Mordialloc they symbolically buried the past to start a new with a time capsule placed in the Barkly St grounds which described the church as it was and its plans within the Uniting Church.