Davis McCaughey

9781742241135_p0_v1_s260x420I’ve just finished Sarah Martin’s recent biography on Davis McCaughey.

For those unfamiliar, McCaughey was a defining figure in the formation of the Uniting Church, personally drafting much of the Uniting Church’s foundational document, the Basis of Union, and then becoming its inaugural President.

For twenty years he was Master of Ormond College in Melbourne, beginning as Professor of Biblical Studies, having emigrated from Ireland with his wife and family in his thirties.

Then, in 1986, he was appointed Governor of Victoria.

His is a fascinating life, and I particularly noted among his many attributes the ability to articulate faith and values credibly into the Australian public square.

I’m struck by his eloquence, which was deeply informed by his avid love of poetry.

It’s also interesting to see how how much of his ecumenical energy was probably energised by his Irish roots. Although Martin doesn’t give a detailed exploration of the process of church union, we do pick up his significant role within it.

It is interesting also to note his friendship with missional thinkers such as Leslie Newbigin, and how they saw the ecumenical movement as a missional imperative.

He became something of an Australian renaissance-statesman, seemingly able to remain in step with the shifting intellectual life of Australia throughout the secularising 1970’s; and then delivering the Boyer Lectures in 1987.

As an educationalist, he saw philosophical and humanistic study as a vital compliment to science and technology, and believed all students should engage some level of literature and poetry as a means of understanding human nature and our social context.

In step with the ever more confident emerging Australian intellectual art and literature set, his view was that “we need them all” in order to grow a transformed and enriched Australian imagination, “without which we are unlikely to acquire a shared vision”.

The impact of his personality and ministry is considerable within the Australian and worldwide church, several decades of students, and the broader Australian intellectual life.

I strongly recommend it, especially for those unfamilar with the man, new to the Uniting Church (or indeed long part of it), or interested in Australian church history.

Here’s a few taster quotes and passages:

“In the Uniting Church we take excellent parish ministers away from ministering to congregations, put them behind a desk in offices and believe we shall thereby solve problems which can (actually) only be solved where Word and Sacrament and pastoral care are available for believing and unbelieving people”

“There is an art of living, and a great part of its practice depends upon respect; and respect itself is a part of true love”

On UCA regulations: “You could throw away half of them, and it wouldn’t matter which half” 

“…McCaughey’s caution in relation to matters of social justice; he was always concerned that such attitudes could slip, if not carefully managed, into moralism that lost sight of the gospel’s freedom”

In a letter to his wife, on lecturing as a young man: “I agree with you my technique is bad; I had forgotten how young I look and consequently how much people are likely to dislike my manner… the answer is to be as sincere as possible. And let the message itself do the shocking…”

“The aim of the church’s training of its ministry is not to equip men (sic) with an encyclopaedic knowledge… but to give men the skill of the craftsmen who loves his tools and knows how to use them”

(The Basis of Union)…did “not say anybody could do anything…What it said was everybody can do something”

“None of us deserve the prayers of others. We simply need them”

On Uniting Church Identity & ‘church patriotism’: “We have no identity, no distinctive marks… we have embarked on a course whereby we ask men and women to forget who they are, and remember whose they are”