8 things you need to know about the new President

8 things you need to know about the new President

From 12 July, Stuart McMillan will become the President of the Uniting Church of Australia.

Here are eight things you need to know about Stuart…..

He’s the third lay person to serve as President

Mr McMillan is the third lay person to ever hold the position; Sir Ronald Wilson and Dr Jill Tabart were the others. As a lay president Stuart’s role in worship will be slightly circumscribed. Under Uniting Church regulations he won’t be able to perform baptisms or preside over communion outside his synod without the authorisation of the host presbytery.

The call of the north

In 1982, Stuart,an accountant, and his wife Ros, a behavioural scientist, had taken the big decision to leave their comfortable community in Sydney’s suburban northwest to move to Darwin with their young family. Stuart and Ros had known for some time that they wanted to do something in their lives to make a difference in the world and to live up to their shared Christian faith.

Called to work with Australia’s First Peoples

Stuart remembers feeling a deep concern for Australia’s First Peoples from when he was in primary school in the 1960s. That passion grew and by the early 1980s Stuart and Ros were active in social justice issues at the former Chester Street Congregational Church in Epping. The lifelong passion would grow, and in 1982, he began working in Arnhem Land.

“My job was to work with Aboriginal bookkeepers so that we had a summary of monthly information for various businesses and operations. I learnt a lot that first week about the capacity of Aboriginal people to do things. Everything was in great shape. These people really knew what they were doing, and I’d been led to believe anecdotally that wasn’t the case. They were as good as any bookkeeper that ever worked for me in Sydney,” says Stuart of his position.

Learned from the best

In the 33 years since, Stuart has had many roles including moderator of the Northern Synod. His path to the presidency has been uniquely informed by the lives of Australia’s First Peoples, particularly the Aboriginal people of northern Australia and members of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress.

“My life has been so deeply enriched by Aboriginal people sharing their spirituality with me. I have been shaped by Aboriginal mentors. They have strengthened and shaped my faith,” says Stuart.

Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM, the first Aboriginal moderator of the Northern Synod (1985–87); Vince Ross, chair of Congress Elders Council and Rev Rronang Garrawurra, past Congress chairperson have all mentored Stuart.

Communication is key

Stuart’s education about Aboriginal Australia has been a long journey. Over  time he realised that his inability to communicate with Aboriginal people in their own language was holding him back from deeper relationships. So he began an intensive course of study in the Yolŋu language and Stuart and his wife being adopted into the Gupapuyngu clan of the Yolŋu nation. The relationships that opened up from his language study led to a new level of spiritual connection.

Stuart worked for Djiniyini Gondarra for 12 years through the heady days after the High Court’s Mabo decision established native title. Aboriginal and Islander groups all around the country were making their cases. This meant a lot of research for Stuart and trips to Canberra to resource Djiniyini and others as they gave their input on the drafting of the Native Title Act under Prime Minister Paul Keating.

Uniting Church remains a constant

While they were drawn ever deeper into Aboriginal Australia, the Uniting Church has remained a constant in the McMillans’ lives. After settling down at Humpty Doo on Darwin’s rural fringe, the McMillans joined with five other couples to set up a new congregation, the Humpty Doo Uniting Church, now the Living Water Uniting Church.

After two ordained ministers in placement Stuart was recognised as pastor, presiding over weddings, funerals and “everything a normal ordained minister would”. Stuart and Ros both went on to hold senior leadership roles in the Northern Synod with Ros serving as moderator from 1996–99 and Stuart finishing an extended five-year term as moderator last month.

Leadership style

So what kind of leader will Stuart McMillan be for the whole Uniting Church? One who will work for a more inclusive, intercultural church across generations to bring about reconciliation and renewal for the whole creation.

A challenged community of Christ

“We are challenged to be a community of Christ, to bring that unity of Christ into play across the many different cultures in God’s church,” says Stuart.

“With our Indigenous brothers and sisters, the challenge remains for us to really listen to them and to the Spirit and to find ways to grow our relationship so that it becomes a truly interdependent one.

“I am energised by the way our next generation is embracing our diversity and applying their gifts and talents in leadership right across the Uniting Church.”

Whatever other challenges may lie ahead, Stuart McMillan is set to face them with patience, perseverance and a profound spirituality.

Matt Pulford (this is an edited extract of an article that first appeared in Journey)

Photo courtesy Louisa Sams

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