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Uniting Church in Australia
The Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) was formed on June 22 1977 when the Methodist Church of Australasia, Presbyterian Church of Australia and Congregational Union of Australia came together under the Basis of Union document.
The UCA is governed by a series of councils: Congregation (local), Presbytery (regional), Synod (state) and Assembly (national), with a lay (non-ordained) majority on each.
The offices of President of Assembly and Moderator of Synod (that chair these councils) are open to all members of the UCA, whether lay or ordained, male or female.
Since 1997 most of these councils and agencies have operated under the consensus decision making procedures outlined in the church's Manual for Meetings. These procedures may use orange ('support') and blue ('do not support') cards, which may be displayed at many times, not just when a vote is called. The idea behind this is about trying to hear the Spirit of God through the gathered community rather than through individuals.
The UCA is not a church with an episcopate (see episcopacy), meaning there are no bishops. The equivalent role in the UCA is performed by Presbytery as a body (meeting), however, many members would see the role as being exercised by the 'Chairperson of Presbytery' who is often an ordained minister but may be a lay person. In many Presbyteries there is also a 'Presbytery Officer' who may be ordained or a lay-minister. Some Presbyteries have a Presbytery Officer who functions as a Pastoral Minister to ministry people. Others use this position for Mission Consultancy work. Still others use this position for Administrative work.
The current President is Rev Dr Dean Drayton.
The President-elect is Rev Gregor Henderson, formerly General Secretary of the UCA.
For a list of Assembly dates, locations, and leaders, see below.
Between the formal Assembly meetings, the interim business of Assembly is conducted by the Assembly Standing Committee that meets typically three times each year, usually March, July and November. Membership of the committee is drawn from around Australia. (18 persons are elected at each Assembly.)
The Synods meet regularly. Some Synods meet every year (e.g. NSW-ACT). Others meet every eighteen months or every two years (e.g. Qld).
The Synods do not quite correspond to the States of Australia. There are six in all:
- NSW Synod (which includes New South Wales and the Australian Captial Territory ).
- Queensland Synod.
- Synod of South Australia.
- Synod of Western Australia.
- Synod of Victoria and Tasmania.
- The Northern Synod (which includes the Northern Territory and the northern regions of Western Australia).
Assembly and Synods each have 'agencies'.
- Assembly - "Theology and Discipleship", "Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress", "UnitingCare Australia", "UnitingJustice Australia", etc
- Synods - NSW "Rural Evangelism and Mission"; WA "Social Justice and Uniting International Mission"; VIC/TAS "Working Group on Christian-Jewish relations"; etc.
UnitingCare is the largest operator of general social care activities in Australia, including being the largest operator of aged aged care facilities. Other activities include: 'central city missions'; shelters and emergency housing for men, women, and children; regular food kitchens for underprivileged people (example: Exodus Foundation at Ashfield Uniting Church in Sydney).
Congregations conduct the regular worship life of the UCA. Generally, they meet on Sundays; however, many churches also conduct worship services at other times, for example a monthly weekday service, a late-night service for day shift workers, cafe church, or Friday evenings.
There must be at least one meeting of the Congregation each year. The Congregational meeting(s) typically considers and approves the budget and any over-arching policy matters of a local nature including decisions on property (which have to be ratified by Presbytery and Synod agencies) and the 'call' (employment) of a new minister or other staff.
Otherwise, Congregations manage themselves through a Council which is deemed to have Elders and may have other members. The Council must meet regularly. The Council approves the times of the worship services and other policy matters.
As a uniquely Australian denomination, the UCA seeks to share Jesus in authentic Aussie ways. It was one of the first churches to grant self-determination to its Aboriginal members, through the UAICC. Strong partnerships also continue with South Pacific and Asian churches, especially those which share a Congregational, Presbyterian or Methodist heritage. An increasing number of ethnic churches meet to worship in the languages of their former countries as well as in English.
The UCA has a strongly felt and argued sense of social justice. It has taken stances on issues such as native title for Aboriginal people, the Environment, Apartheid, status of refugees, and provision of safe injection facilities for drug users. These stances have been expressed in practical involvement as well as in political comment and advocacy.
Liturgically the UCA is extremely varied. Practice ranges from new experimental liturgies sometimes disparagingly called 'High UCA' through conventional reformed services to extremely informal worship reminiscent of the 'Jesus Revolution' of the 1970s. Music is equally varied, ranging from traditional hymns especially from the now-superseded but still popular Australian Hymn Book through Hillsong to hard rock Contemporary Christian music.
One of the issues which has been regularly discussed and debated almost from the inception of the UCA is that of the place of homosexuals within the church, and the added issue of the ordination of homosexual people. The church has come to a fairly broad consensus that a person's gender orientation should not be a bar to attendance, membership or participation in Holy Communion. A more controversial question has been the issue of godly living in the expression of sexual orientation, and arising from this, the question of standards of appropriate behaviour for ordination candidates.
A decision of the Assembly Standing Committee in 1982 had maintained that homosexual orientation was not a bar to ordination and left the decision about candidature for ordination with the Presbytery. After emotional debate, the 1997 Assembly did not reach a decision on the issue, and the 2000 Assembly decided not to discuss homosexuality. In July 17 2003 the National Assembly of the UCA attempted to clarify the church's earlier positions, recognising in a resolution that people within the UCA had interpreted the scriptures with integrity in coming to two opposed views: some concluding that a practicing homosexual person in a committed same sex relationship could be ordained as a minister, others determining the opposite. The Assembly resolution and subsequent material from the Assembly Standing Committee made it clear that when Presbyteries (regional councils) select candidates for ministry they may be guided by a Presbytery commitment to a particular approach to sexual ethics, but each determination of candidature must still be made on a case by case basis. By explicitly recognising the two positions, this 2003 decision surprised many by not distinguishing between orientation and behaviour, thus going further than the 1982 Assembly Standing Committee decision. However the Assembly Standing Committee subsequently used its powers to vary the wording of the resolution in order to remove reference to specific positions, so as not to be seen to be affirming any particular standard of sexual ethics. The ASC also issued an apology that better communication did not occur leading up to 2003 Assembly, and a churchwide process of response, reflection and preparation for the 2006 Assembly was initiated.
Although seen as a compromise from their preferred position, the 2003 decision was welcomed by the Uniting Network, a group for supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered UCA members that formed out of bi-annual gatherings of homosexual Christians begun in 1994.
The decision was condemned by Emu (the Evangelical Members within the UCA), a group which gained prominence as a result of their opposition to gay ordination in the lead up to the 1997 Assembly having been formed some years previously as Evangelical Ministers of the UCA. It has also been criticised strongly by members of the UCA not associated with either group. Another group opposed to the ordination of homosexuals, The Reforming Alliance, has also been active in helping conservative congregations determine their best strategy.
Both EMU and The Reforming Alliance are examples of a Confessing Movement within the UCA.
Assembly, Dates, Leaders and Locations
(President; General Secretary)
1. June 1977 J Davis McCaughey; Winston O’Reilly; Sydney
2. May 1979 Winston O’Reilly; Winston O’Reilly to December 1979; Melbourne
3. May 1982 Rollie Busch; David Gill from January 1980 ; Adelaide
4. May 1985 Ian Tanner; David Gill; Sydney
5. May 1988 Ronald Wilson; David Gill to July 1988; Melbourne
6. July 1991 H D’Arcy Wood; Gregor Henderson from January 1989; Brisbane
7. July 1994 Jill Tabart; Gregor Henderson; Sydney
8. July 1997 John E Mavor; Gregor Henderson; Perth
9. July 2000 James Haire; Gregor Henderson; Adelaide
10. July 2003 Dean Drayton; Terence Corkin from January 2001; Melbourne
11. 2006 Gregor Henderson (elect)
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