Six Things I Appreciate About the Uniting Church
I didn’t grow up in the Uniting Church, and have had a diverse path into it.
Following which as an adult, after several years of non-church attendance, I engaged with the more radical discipleship stream through St Martins, otherwise known as the God Squad church in Collingwood, for seven years.
I then spent a year assisting a friend build a new church in the Churches of Christ, and was involved in the missional church conversation through Forge.
So, pentecostal to radical-disciple and missional. I’m evangelical, charismatic, and now an ordained Uniting Church Minister, deeply involved in various councils, boards and relationships, and on faculty at Uniting College for Leadership & Theology.
I have close friends and colleagues right across the denominational spectrum, but this is where I am.
There’s more reasons than this, but here’s six quick things I appreciate about the Uniting Church:
1. It’s meant to be a non-denomination
The Uniting Church was birthed out of a union in 1977 between the Australian Methodist, Presbyterian & Congregationalist churches, NOT to create a new unique, special denomination, but rather out of a desire for ongoing union between denominations, out of a conviction that division in the worldwide church is an anathema to the Body of Christ.
In his address to the second ever UCA Assembly, the retiring President, Davis McCaughey said:
In an important sense we in the UCA have no church identity, no distinctive marks – other than belonging with the people of God brought into being by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on their way to the consummation of all things in Him… We are embarked on a course in which we ask men and women to forget who they are and remember whose they are.
As someone who cares more for the mission than the denomination, I appreciate the roots of non-identity which hopefully grounds these people of God in our reforming ways. Like Australia generally, we’re at our best when not trying too hard to define ourselves, except in relation to Christ and our missional context.
2. It has participatory governance
There are no Bishops or unaccountable hierarchies in the Uniting Church.
And participation is encouraged at every level, from Congregations, Church Councils, Presbyteries, Synods and national Assembly, allowances are made for lay/ordained, male/female, and youth representation.
Consider that having been in the UCA for less than two years, I found myself at the National Assembly, participating in the highest matters of doctrine, and voting for the next National President. Try that in the ________ Church.
3. It’s the denomination of both Wesley & Calvin.
The UCA describes itself as both Reformed & Evangelical. On a recent summer school in Oxford, the participants from around the world were astonished by my description of the UCA, and staggered that a union of Methodists and Presbyterians was possible.
Calvinists and Armenians both minister side by side and live within Wesley’s famous words to ‘agree to disagree’ on this matter. And in the pulpit, everyone preaches grace.
There is an argument to be had that the historical trajectory of these categories matters less these days. I think they do matter, though we’re less cognisant of the historical fingerprints. And this debate has returned with the emergence of the new reformed movement.
I’m more of a Wesley man myself, but in the UCA you inherit both, with a dose of Karl Barth.
4. It takes Indigenous covenanting incredibly seriously.
The UCA is the only denomination to have established a self-determining indigenous body, the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress; a Covenant with that body; and a revised Preamble to its Constitution.
5. It has a profound & articulate (mission-oriented) theological basis
The foundation document for the UCA is the Basis of Union, a magnificent theological statement. Consider these portions:
The Church as the fellowship of the Holy Spirit confesses Jesus as Lord over its own life; it also confesses that Jesus is Head over all things, the beginning of a new creation, of a new humanity. God in Christ has given to all people in the Church the Holy Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation. (para 3)
Through human witness in word and action, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ reaches out to command attention and awaken faith; he calls people into the fellowship of his sufferings, to be the disciples of a crucified Lord; in his own strange way Christ constitutes, rules and renews them as his Church. (para 4)
Much is made of the inclusive nature of the Uniting Church. In a recent NCLS question, over 70% of UCA members named it as their most valued aspect of the church.
This week is the triennial National Assembly and, as usual, significant matters of doctrine and policy are discussed with some profoundly different convictions. The breadth of the church is very apparent, reflecting, frankly, the spectrum of the broader church.
By definition, one doesn’t necessarily seek out diversity on matters of serious conviction. And in the UCA you don’t have to. Sometimes comments are made which are unfortunate – on all sides – and there’s emotion too. But mostly its informed and nuanced, but with disagreement.
Mature relationship doesn’t come through pretending a belief or conviction isn’t there, or that we all believe the same thing in the end. Rather, it’s about doing the work to have a clear and robust understanding of the different perspectives, and knowing why you stand where you do.
I’ve had to deepen and refine my thinking on a whole manner of issues, and for this I am a far better Minister and scholar.
This has been made easy by the generous hospitality and friendship of many people. I have trusted friends and colleagues right across that theological spectrum.
Through all this, there’s something of a healthy freedom available within the Uniting Church. If you want to take initiative, there’s plenty of room. The denomination doesn’t tell you what to do, but it provides support.
Everyone wants to see things happen, and that makes room for initiative, pioneering and change – if you’re up for it.
I appreciate that.
More to come…