Happy Birthday Uniting Church!
As we celebrate our 35th birthday as a church, says Alistair Macrae, it’s a timely opportunity to look back at the “Statement to the Nation”, as relevant today as it was on June 22, 1977.
“People of the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches have united. A new church has been born.”
It was with these words 35 years ago that the Uniting Church in Australia was created.
To celebrate, the church issued a “Statement to the Nation” that spoke to Australia and the world of the importance of every human being, the proclamation of truth and justice, and our responsibility as Christians to involve ourselves in social and national affairs.
Our Statement to the Nation spelt out our Christian responsibility to society and called us to respond by involving ourselves in social and national affairs.
Today our agency UnitingCare puts that commitment into action in its work as one of the largest providers of community services in Australia. UnitingCare has more than 1,300 social services sites nationally — twice as many sites as McDonalds! We serve over two million Australians each year.
But that’s not all. The church’s services extend well beyond Australian shores.
Across Africa, Asia and the Pacific, UnitingWorld works with our partner churches to build capacity in disadvantaged communities and represent their needs back to the church in Australia.
We still affirm our eagerness to uphold basic Christian values and principles, such as the importance of every human being, the need for integrity in public life, the proclamation of truth and justice, and a concern for the welfare of the whole human race.
Since 2003 UnitingJustice Australia has been doing just that, serving as a strong voice for the church in opposing all forms of discrimination, as well as in urging the wise use of energy, and the protection of the environment.
As the Uniting Church has grown, we’ve also become a more multicultural church. This is something we continue to celebrate and explore.
Every week worship is offered to God in more than 30 languages. Right across the Uniting Church our commitment to multicultural and cross-cultural Ministry informs and reinforces our Christian witness.
In a deeply materialistic culture we hope that we can live out Jesus’ teaching that “people don’t live by bread alone” and challenge the endless consumerism that favours the well-off and extracts a heavy price on our environment.
As President, I am proud of our church’s early naming of the importance of ecological sustainability!
Something conspicuously missing in the 1977 Statement is any reference to the First Peoples of Australia. The formation and development of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress in 1985 has probably been the most significant development since Union. Congress is the indigenous part of our church offering holistic ministry alongside Aboriginal and Islander people.
One hundred years ago the eradication of poverty in remote areas of Australia was the focus of work of Dr John Flynn’s Australian Inland Mission. Frontier Services continues that work today in rural and remote Australia as they celebrate 100 years at the heart of rural and remote Australia.
Notwithstanding the good work of our church agencies, it goes without saying that our ultimate allegiance is to God and the gospel and the vision of life that Jesus taught. Assembly groups such as Christian Unity, Adult Fellowship, Doctrine and Worship all work to celebrate our identity as Uniting Church, build fellowship within our church and resource our witness in word and action to Jesus Christ.
The theme of our next triennium is “Life Overflowing”. I hope to continue to see expressions of that life and the hope and joy that can’t be contained, springing up across the church.
In 2012 we again pledge ourselves to hope and work for a nation whose goals are not guided by self-interest alone but by concern for the welfare of all persons everywhere — the family of the One God, the God made known in Jesus of Nazareth, the One who gave His life for others.
We are still in the process of uniting, seeking, with God’s help, to embody the reconciliation and renewal of all things.
Thanks be to God.
The Rev. Alistair Macrae is President of the Assembly, Uniting Church in Australia.