My UCA journey began in the Merrylands Methodist Church. A church that encouraged its youth to be in leadership roles and provided much of my young adult Christian formation. We had information sessions about the proposed coming together of the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational Churches.
My (Dutch) grandfather was a Methodist Minister in NSW and in my Dad’s family, there were very strong Methodist beginnings in country NSW. I remember that amidst the excitement of the thought of becoming a part of a big new happening in Australia, I felt a sadness that part of who I was would be taken away.
I soon realised and was excited that my heritage could never be taken away and was part of forming this new beginning that would be the Uniting Church in Australia.
It was a Sunday in July 1971 that we voted to form the Uniting Church in Australia.
In 1974, I went to work in the office of what was then called the Integrated Department of Christian Education of the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational Churches. The “education” section had already combined. That was the beginning, for me, of life changing and wonderful experiences. From 1974 to 1998, in different roles, I worked with wonderful people. People who affirmed me, encouraged me, and moved me forward. Strong and ongoing friendships remain.
Back to 1977. By working in what became the Uniting Church Synod of NSW offices I was in the midst of a lot of excitement as the day of Church Union was becoming a reality.
Rev Winston O’Reilly, had been appointed by the three churches to be the Executive Officer responsible for co-ordinating the preparations for church union. His office was on our 3rd floor at the old 139 Castlereagh Street.
On Wednesday evening 22nd June 1977, I attended the Inauguration of the Uniting Church in Australia at the Sydney Town Hall. It was a privilege to be part of this special event. Dressed in my best clothes I seem to remember handing out the Order of Service, on the south side upstairs. It was a great occasion, solemn though the Service was, there was a feeling of great excitement that we were part of something very significant that had never happened before. We felt the excitement that from our Youth Department, Christine Gapes, was asked to be the Bible Reader. There was a tremendous sense of excitement and hope during the Service and as we left the Town Hall spontaneously the crowd stood still on the steps and sang hymns out of a joy that could not be contained.
On the following Saturday evening a NSW Celebration was held in the Horden Pavilion at the then Sydney Showground. Churches organised busloads to get us to the Celebration. It was a joyful time and less formal than the Inauguration.
Through my youth and adult years, it has been people within the Uniting Church who have formed me, nourished me, challenged me, encouraged me, and moved me on.
Forty years is a long time. Whilst memories are good to reflect on, unless we as individuals and as a Church move on, we can never grow or be effective in reaching out to people within our community.
Elva Harris, West Epping Uniting Church.