What is the Uniting Church in Australia?
Established in 1977, the Uniting Church in Australia brought together people from the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church and the Congregational Union. It is a truly Australian and indigenous, contemporary Christian church.
The Uniting Church stands with the people of this other lands in their search for spiritual life, justice, identity and dignity. Its call is to be a fellowship of reconciliation, a body within which the diverse gifts of its members are used for the building up of the whole, and an instrument through which Christ may work and bear witness to himself.
The church confidently believes that through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God brings us into right relationship with God, whereby in faith we can:
- live in a close, loving, personal, dynamic relationship with the living God;
- participate in a worshipping, caring and serving community of Christians;
- receive God's gifts so that life can be what God means it to be loving, purposeful, joyful and eternal; and
- tell others of this good news and live it out in acts of compassion, service and justice in the community.
The Uniting Church aims to be an inclusive community of different views, cultures and expressions of faith. As one of the largest non-government providers of community services in all parts of Australia, it is committed to reflecting the love and grace of God in caring for people, in advocating for those with special needs and for the equitable and appropriate provision of social services.
The Uniting Church is committed to the ministry of the whole people of God, and to discovering the gifts that each person brings to the service of Christ and the church. Church people gather regularly as congregations. Congregations in each local area are central to the church's life. They provide caring faith communities to which all people are welcome. They aim to unite people with each other and with God.
The Uniting Church in Australia was formed on June 22, 1977, as a union of three churches: the Congregational Union of Australia, the Methodist Church of Australasia and the Presbyterian Church of Australia. Through those churches the Uniting Church has its roots in the churches of the Reformation. In continuity with the Church of New Testament times it bears witness to Jesus Christ. The Uniting Church holds in common with the Church of every age the historic creeds which affirm the essentials of the Christian faith.
In uniting, the members of the three denominations testified to "that unity which is both Christ's gift and will for the Church".
Ecumenism remains a vital aspect in all of the church's life and work - in congregations, national commitments to work together with other churches, and relationships and partnerships with churches of various denominations in Asia and the Pacific.
What we believe
The Uniting Church's beliefs are drawn from the Bible and from the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. The church also takes heed of the Reformation Witness in the Scots Confession of Faith (1560), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), the Savoy Declaration (1658), and of the preaching of John Wesley in his Forty-four Sermons (1793).
It affirms the place of ongoing theological, literary, historical and scientific study. The church's Basis of Union (1971 & 1992) brings together aspects of these writings and traditions and sets out the church's way of living and being.
Structure and administration
The Uniting Church is organised not by a hierarchy with bishops on top, nor by a hierarchy of church courts, but by groups of women and men, lay and ordained, consulting together, usually making decisions by consensus, in each area of the church's life.
The church is committed to being a series of inter-related councils local churches, regional presbyteries, state synods, and the national Assembly. Each council has its distinct tasks, and each council recognises the limits of its responsibilities in relation to other councils. Hierarchy occurs when a group decides it knows what is best and has the power to impress that decision on others. The Uniting Church is committed to a more shared process ... and realises the need to keep working at it.
According to the church's foundational document, The Basis of Union, the "Uniting Church recognises that responsibility for government in the Church belongs to the people of God by virtue of the gifts and tasks which God has laid upon them. The Uniting Church therefore so organises its life that locally, regionally and nationally government will be entrusted to representatives, men and women, bearing the gifts and graces with which God has endowed them for the building up of the Church ...
"The Uniting Church acknowledges that Christ alone is supreme in his Church, and that he may speak to it through any of its councils. It is the task of every council to wait upon God's Word, and to obey God's will in the matters allocated to its oversight."
A congregation is the embodiment in one place of the Uniting Church meeting for worship, witness and service. It is the local congregation where the church tells the story of Christ, calls people to faith and shares with God in service in the world. In congregations and associated groups Australian Christians discover what it means to be human in this world. They provide a foundation from which people seek to live out the Christian faith in ways that make a difference.
Many decisions about the church's life and witness (its membership, worship, pastoral care, local ministry and mission, administration) are the responsibility of the congregations. Councils of elders and church councils are elected to oversee these functions.
Congregations are seen as the focus and centre of the Uniting Church's ministry and mission, alongside community service agencies. Congregations usually meet in local churches, but may also be based in one of the many community service agencies of the Uniting Church.
Congregations are supported and assisted in mission and service by the other councils of the church, each of which is a gathering of God's people to explore ministry and mission across the area they cover.
Christ came to transform individual lives and also to renew the whole of the creation, and the church's councils share in that task of renewal. Synods, presbyteries and the Assembly do things on behalf of local congregations which they cannot do separately (for example, oversight of aged care facilities and building relationships with government). They help ensure that the people of God hold to the faith passed down from the apostles.
They are also a focus for the unity of the church which Jesus prayed for in John 17. While it is easy for churches to become shaped by their local concerns, the wider councils of the church, through the discussions of the whole people of God, can provide a broader view of the gospel. Unity is a witness to the church's love of Christ, and the wider councils of the church help us to express that beyond individual communities of faith.
A synod is the state council of the Uniting Church. The word "synod" also describes the regular meeting of representatives of the state-wide Uniting Church.
Six synods of the Uniting Church in Australia are responsible for overall support and resourcing of the church in their area especially in community services, mission planning, theological education and other educational services, administration relating to ministers and to property, financial services. The elected head of each synod is the Moderator, and a General Secretary is usually appointed as the chief executive officer.
The Synod of New South Wales and the ACT gathers presbyteries and congregations in New South Wales and the ACT where, according to the 2006 Census there were 299,343 Uniting Church adherents. In 2006 there were around 33,000 regular Uniting Church attendees.
A presbytery is a council of the Uniting Church which has oversight of congregations, ministry and programs within a region. The Uniting Church in Australia's 52 presbyteries have responsibility for oversight of the church's life and work in their region, especially for the settlement of ministers; establishment, amalgamation and disbanding of congregations; mission strategy; and support of congregational life.
A presbytery is the council to which ministers of the word and deacons are responsible. It has the duty of caring for them and ensuring their work is carried out faithfully. Presbytery meetings include ordained ministers, lay pastors and elected lay persons from every congregation.
The Synod of New South Wales and the ACT has 13 presbyteries (Canberra, Far North Coast, Georges River, Illawarra, Ku-ring-gai, Macquarie Darling, Mid North Coast, Northern Inland, Parramatta-Nepean, The Riverina, Sydney, Sydney North, and The Hunter).
The Assembly is the national council of the Uniting Church.
The Assembly is headed by the President of the Uniting Church, with a General Secretary as chief executive officer. Its meetings, usually every three years, "consist of such ministers, elders/leaders and other Church members as are appointed thereto, the majority being appointed by the Presbyteries and Synods. It has determining responsibility for matters of doctrine, worship, government and discipline, including the promotion of the Church's mission, the establishment of standards of theological training and reception of ministers from other communions, and the taking of further measures towards the wider union of the Church. It makes the guiding decisions on the tasks and authority to be exercised by other councils. It is obligatory for it to seek the concurrence of the councils, and on occasion of the congregations of the Church, on matters of vital importance to the life of the Church."
The Assembly's central offices are located in Pitt Street, Sydney.
"The Uniting Church acknowledges that Christ has commanded his Church to proclaim the gospel both in words and in the two visible acts of Baptism and the Lord's Supper" (Basis of Union, para. 6). It baptises those who confess the Christian faith and children presented for baptism. It takes responsibility for their instruction and nourishment in the faith. It ordains those it believes God has called to be ministers of the word and deacons. It commissions lay people it believes God has called to be elders, lay preachers, youth workers and community ministers.
Presidents and moderators have the authority given to them by their respective councils. According to church's regulations: "The responsibilities of the President shall be to give spiritual leadership and encouragement to the Church generally, to represent the Church as appropriate, to give counsel as occasion requires and to do such other things as may be requested or advised by the Assembly."
The regulations say: "The responsibilities of the General Secretary, as executive officer of the Assembly, shall be to give general leadership to the church, to ensure execution of Assembly policy, to coordinate Assembly activities, to oversee management of Assembly staff, and to do such other things as the Assembly may require."
What we do
The Uniting Church's commitment to love of God and neighbour has sometimes drawn it into controversial situations. It has long taken a role in the political arena, encouraging moral, social and ethical integrity. The Uniting Church has been at the forefront of Aboriginal rights issues including the Native Title debate and reconciliation.
It has taken a stand on environmental issues, and supports the equality and dignity of marginalised people such as ethnic minorities, disabled people and homosexual people.
It is a multicultural church, striving to treat people on an equal basis and seeking to give a voice to the poor, outcast and needy.
However, only some of the Uniting Church's discipling is viewed in public. Much of its role is to stand alongside the individual, inside and outside the church. Its congregations nurture spiritual, social and educational growth. Lay people are encouraged in leadership roles, including preaching the Word and leading congregational worship.
Alongside those in need
In accordance with the understanding that God loves all people equally and works in and through all God's people, the Uniting Church's approach to world mission has moved from a patriarchal model of "knowing and giving what we think is best" to a model of standing alongside those in need.
The church's mission co-workers immerse themselves in local culture, seek to hear the voice of the local people, and respond by offering support, encouragement and empowerment. This is particularly so in the area of human rights, where the dignity of people made in the image of God must always be respected, however different their way of life may be from that of the mission co-worker.
This model has mutual benefits mission co-workers learn about themselves as well as others, through their experiences. Inevitably, they have revealed to them new and life-changing aspects of God which they are able to share on their return to Australia.
The Uniting Church constantly seeks to affirm its biblical and theological understanding that "Christians in Australia are called to bear witness to a unity of faith and life in Christ which transcends cultural and economic, national and racial boundaries" (Basis of Union, para. 2).
The Uniting Church is the third largest Christian denomination in Australia. It has around 2,500 congregations, 32 presbyteries and six synods. Uniting Church members number 243,000 while 1.1 million Australians claim an association.
Uniting Churches are found throughout Australia.
The church has a special ministry, through Frontier Services, to the people of the outback some of its ministers are "patrol padres" and "flying padres".
The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress is the Aboriginal arm of the church, with 10,000 to 15,000 Aboriginal and Islander people involved.
From 5-7 per cent of Uniting Church members worship in languages other than English, in 25 different language groupings plus various Aboriginal tribal languages.
The church is diverse, with a range of views and practices in theological and spiritual emphasis, worship style, social opinions and mission focus.
It has 48 schools, ranging from long-established schools with large enrolments to small recently established low-fee schools.
More than 20,000 people are employed by the church in community services work, particularly in aged care, Lifeline, hospitals, nursing, family support services, youth services, and care for the homeless.
A national agency guides the way the church tries to live with understanding, peace and harmony with people of other faiths.
Income levels: Figures from the 1991 Australian Bureau of Statistics Census show that Uniting Church families had an income level slightly higher than average: 15.0% with an income of $40,001-50,000 (14.6% for general population); 21.3% with a family income of $50,001-80,000 (20.0% for general population); 8.1% more than $80,000 (7.6% for general population).
Employment: People associated with the Uniting Church are more likely to be employed than is the case for the general Australian population. At the time of the 1991 census, 5.4% of Uniting Church people were recorded as being unemployed, when 8.4% was the figure for the whole population. The National Church Life Survey (1991) found that most Uniting Church attendees come from a home where the chief income earner is a professional, in senior management or a farm owner.
Educational qualifications: These are similar for Uniting Church people and for the population as a whole, but a slightly higher proportion associated with the Uniting Church have degrees or diplomas: 7.8% of Uniting Church people have a higher degree, postgraduate diploma or bachelors degree; 6.7% have an undergraduate or associate diploma; and 13.6% have skilled or basic vocational qualifications.
Main industries: Professionals and para-professionals make up a large part of those associated with the Uniting Church. One industry sector in which Uniting Church people feature most is community services, such as teaching, health and legal services. The other main industry sector for them is agriculture.
Age of churchgoers: People who actually attend Uniting Church services are older than those who identify with the Uniting Church. The National Church Life Survey (1996) found that 40% of all adults attending were over 60 years. About 75% of all Uniting Church adult attendees are more than 40 years.
Heritage: The Uniting Church sees itself as part of "the one holy catholic apostolic church" throughout the world. Its heritage is therefore that of all Christian churches, stemming from the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. In addition, the Uniting Church is a child of the Reformation of the 15th and 16th centuries (leading to Congregational and Presbyterian churches), of the Wesleyan renewal of the 18th century (leading to the Methodist church), and of the ecumenical movement of the 19th and 20th centuries (leading to United and Uniting churches).
Ecumenism: Seeking to work in cooperation with other Christian churches in Australia and overseas is a high priority, the Uniting Church is an ecumenical church, in national bilateral dialogue with five other churches and much involved in regional and world ecumenical bodies. The Uniting Church is a member of the National Council of Churches in Australia, along with 12 other Australian churches. Each synod is in membership of the state ecumenical council or council of churches. Official partnerships are in place with 22 churches overseas, in Asia and the Pacific, but the church also works with and relates to many other churches overseas. The Uniting Church is an active member of the Christian Conference of Asia, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the World Methodist Council and the World Council of Churches.
Diversity: The church has a diversity of views and practices in theological and spiritual emphasis, worship style, social opinions, and mission focus. Tens of thousands of members are involved in small group activity, mostly in Bible study and prayer.
Social justice: The church is active on many social issues, and is well known for its views on matters such as Aboriginal affairs, economic policy, international human rights, militarism and various ethical matters.
Community services: More than 20,000 people are employed by the church in community services work, particularly in aged care, Lifeline, in family support services, youth services, and caring for the homeless. Schools and hospitals are also part of the church's ministry in the community.
Outback ministry: Frontier Services is the outback community services arm of the church, with a network of bush hospitals, patrol padres, student group homes, family support services, pre-school education and aged care facilities throughout the remote parts of Australia.
Other faiths: A national Working Group on Relations with Other Faiths guides the way in which the church tries to live with understanding, peace and harmony with people of other faiths in Australia.