New kids on the block
To get an inside view of why people choose to join the Uniting Church ¾ and what their experience is like ¾ Insights interviewed a small group of people who still were relatively new. The four “newbies” have spent between six months and three years with the Uniting Church, through local congregations and small groups.
Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
The National Church Life Survey (NCLS) is a census conducted every five years to study the vitality of Australia’s churches. The Synod of New South Wales and the ACT Board of Mission is a major supporter.
One of the nine core qualities identified by NCLS Research is Nine Core Qualities is intentional and welcoming inclusion.
The 2006 survey found inclusion to be one of the Uniting Church’s strengths, with some 85 per cent of new arrivals in the previous five years agreeing they had found it easy to make friends.
All the newcomers interviewed by Insights said that they had felt welcomed by their new church or small group and that this was central to their decision to get involved.
Julie McCrossin is a comedienne and former ABC broadcaster, perhaps best known for her work on Good News Week.
Along with her partner Melissa, she has been a part of South Sydney Uniting Church for “about six months”.
Ms McCrossin first visited to see a friend who is currently battling cancer.
“We instinctively felt the best way to do that was to go to her church and show our regard for something that we knew was very dear to her heart,” she said.
Ms McCrossin said she found South Sydney congregation to be welcoming from the start.
“We were made to feel welcome by the genuine warmth of the greeting we received the first time we came. We were welcomed by name as part of the service,” she said.
Ms McCrossin suggested that welcome was part of South Sydney congregation’s broad, inclusive ethos: “Melissa and I are truly welcome as a lesbian couple. It is an inclusive and loving community that welcomes all sorts of people from all sorts of cultural, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds. It is a place where ‘love thy neighbour’ is put into practice.”
She said, “If the welcome mat had not been put out by the Uniting Church, I would still be relying on the ABC Religion Department, via radio and television, and my old Anglican school for contact with a community of people who care about faith.”
Marley Cook is a freelance journalist and researcher. As well as attending St Mary’s Anglican Church in western Sydney, she is involved in Blaxland Uniting Church’s young adult Bible study group.
Having grown up in a family that was “spiritual … as opposed to … faithful” Ms Cook confessed to having developed “the Ned Flanders stereotype of those who went to church”.
She said, however, that the Uniting Church accepted her “with no qualms”. This inclusion was extended to her during times when she had hard questions;
“At times on my [faith] journey I’ve had questions, which probably have been so radical most people would have looked at me with a meek smile and whispered ‘She’s a bit of a freak’ but my [Bible study group] has embraced this and they’ve never once asked me to stop being such an inquisitive nerd,” she said.