Uniting Church in Australia

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Uniting Church in Australia
Classification Protestant (Mainstream)
Polity Interconciliar/Presbyterian
Distinct fellowships Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress
Associations NCCA, WCC, CCA, WARC, World Methodist Council
Region Australia
Origin 1977
Merger of Methodist Church of Australasia, Presbyterian Church of Australia, and Congregational Union of Australia
Congregations 2,500
Members over 1 million
Nursing homes UnitingAid heavily funds the aging sector
Aid organization UnitingAid - largest aid giver in Australia
People who identify with the Uniting Church as a percentage of the total population in Australia at the 2011 census, divided geographically by statistical local area

The Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) was established on 22 June 1977 when most congregations of the Methodist Church of Australasia, the Presbyterian Church of Australia and the Congregational Union of Australia came together under the Basis of Union.

According to the Australian Census in 2011 there are 1,065,796 people identifying with the Uniting Church in Australia, making it the third largest denomination behind the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church. National Church Life Survey (NCLS) research in 2001 indicated that average weekly attendance as approximately 10% of this number.[1]

The Uniting Church in Australia is widely considered and often described as being a progressive-liberal church, ordaining women and gay people, and supporting progressive causes.


Churches in Australia that were formerly Presbyterian, Methodist, or Congregational came together under the basis of union to become the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) in 1977. St Michael's Uniting Church in Melbourne, pictured here, was formerly the Congregational Union Australia Church.

The Uniting Church is governed by a number of non-hierarchical inter-related councils which each have responsibility for various functions or roles within the denomination. The meetings of councils include:

The membership of each council is established by the constitution. Each council includes both women and men and lay (non-ordained) and ordained people. The offices of President of Assembly, Moderator of Synod (who chair these councils) and other such offices are open to all members of the UCA whether lay or ordained, male or female.

The UCA is a non-episcopal church, that is it has no bishops. The leadership and pastoral role in the UCA is performed by a presbytery as a body (meeting). However, many members appear to understand the "chairperson of presbytery" or the "moderator" of the synod as exercising this role. This position may be occupied by an ordained minister or a lay person. In many presbyteries there is also a "presbytery officer" who may be ordained or a lay minister. The presbytery officer in many cases functions as a pastoral minister, a pastor to the pastors (a pastor pastorum) to people in ministry. Other presbyteries use this position for mission consultancy work and others for administrative work.


The national assembly meets every three years and is chaired by the president. The 14th Assembly met in Perth from 12 to 18 July 2015. The current president is Stuart McMillan. He was preceded by Andrew Dutney.

The president-elect is Deidre Palmer. She was elected at the 14th Assembly is currently serving as the moderator of the Presbytery and Synod of South Australia.[2] She will take office as President at the 15th Assembly, to be hosted by the Synod of Victoria/Tasmania in 2018.[3]

For a list of assembly dates, locations and leaders, see below.

Between the assembly meetings, the business of assembly is conducted by the Assembly Standing Committee which meets three times a year, usually March, July and November. Membership of the committee is drawn from around Australia with 18 people elected at each assembly.


The synods meet regularly. In the past most synods met every year, however now many synods have chosen to meet every eighteen months (both NSW/ACT and Vic/Tas have made that change), or even every two years (e.g. Queensland).

There are six synods:[4]


Generally each synod comprises a number of presbyteries.

Both Western Australia and South Australia have moved to a unitary presbytery-synod model and implement varying ways of enabling groups of congregations to work together, based either on geographic location or on networks of similar interests or characteristics.

It is at the level of the presbytery that decisions are made regarding:

  • selection for candidature to ministry,
  • placement of ministers.


Congregations are the church locally. They are the setting of regular worship, generally meeting on Sundays. Many churches also conduct worship services at other times, for example a monthly weekday service, a late-night service for day shift workers, "cafe church", or Saturday or Friday evenings.

A "Meeting of the Congregation" must be held at least twice each year. The meetings typically consider and approve the budget, any overarching policy matters of a local nature, property matters (which have to be ratified by presbytery and synod agencies) and the "call" (employment) of a new minister or other staff.

Congregations manage themselves through a council. All elders are members, as are ministers with pastoral responsibility for the congregation, there may also be other members. The council meets regularly and is responsible for approving the times of the worship services and other matters.

Narooma Uniting Church

There are some "united" congregations. In some locations, the UCA has joined with other churches (such as Baptist Union and Churches of Christ in Australia. There are also a range of cooperative arrangements where resourcing ministry to congregations is not possible, particularly in rural and remote areas. This includes arrangements with the Anglican Church where ministry resources and sometimes property resources are shared.

"Faith communities" are less structured than congregations. They are groupings of people who gather together for worship, witness or service and choose to be recognised by the presbytery.

Local church buildings are sometimes also used by congregations of other church denominations. For example, a Tongan Seventh-day Adventist congregation may make arrangements to meet in the building on a Saturday.

The UCA is predominantly European,[citation needed] however it is committed to being inclusive and there are a number of multicultural arrangements, with Korean, Tongan, and other groups forming congregations of the church.

Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress

The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) is sometimes referred to simply as Congress. The UAICC is formally recognised and enabled within the Constitution as having responsibility for oversight of the ministry of the Church with the Aboriginal and Islander people of Australia.

A Synod may at the request of a Regional Committee of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress prescribe that the Regional Committee may have and exercise all or specific rights, powers, duties and responsibilities of a Presbytery under this Constitution and the Regulations (including ordination and other rights, powers and responsibilities relating to Ministers) for the purpose of fulfilling any responsibility of the Regional Committee for Uniting Church work with Aboriginal and Islander people within the bounds of the Synod.[5]


UnitingCare as a whole is the largest operator of general social care activities in Australia, including being the largest operator of aged care facilities. Other activities include: 'central missions'; shelters and emergency housing for men, women, and children; family relationships support; disability services; food kitchens for underprivileged people.[citation needed]

Assembly and Synods have a number of other 'agencies', examples are:

  • Assembly
    • Theology and Discipleship
    • Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (the UAICC operates in many ways as a Synod) collectively represents the Indigenous Australians who are members of the Christian church. It is estimated that there are between 10000 and 15000 people involved.
    • UnitingCare Australia
    • UnitingJustice Australia
    • UnitingWorld
  • Synods
    • NSW - Rural Evangelism and Mission
    • WA - Social Justice and Uniting International Mission
    • Vic/Tas - Working Group on Christian-Jewish relations
    • SA - Mission Resourcing Network
    • QLD - Blue Care
Wayside Chapel, Potts Point


The UCA provides theological training and ministerial formation through a number of theological colleges. All are members of ecumenical theological consortia:

Generally training takes five years and involves substantial supervised practical experience.

The UCA is associated with several schools and residential university colleges, with the oldest being Newington College in Sydney. In Adelaide, for example, they include Westminster School, Scotch College, Pedare Christian College, Prince Alfred College, Annesley College and Lincoln College. It runs 48 schools, ranging from long-established schools with large enrolments to small, recently established low-fee schools. In 2015 two of them, Methodist Ladies' College, Melbourne and Ravenswood School for Girls, were embroiled in controversy after staff departures. The church issued a statement saying it "remains confident that MLC School and Ravenswood School for Girls are continuing to practise Uniting Church values and ethos, and offer strong pastoral support for students in their care."[8]

In Brisbane, the Uniting Church established Moreton Bay College in the early 20th century. The college is located in the bayside suburb of Manly West.

Christian education is provided for all members of the Uniting Church, for all ages, through local congregations and agencies.


The National Christian Youth Convention is a national UCA activity, run in school and university holidays in January every second year in a different city.

NCYC attracts over 1,500 young people aged 16–30 from around the nation plus visiting delegations from overseas. Leadership is by a local organising team, but NCYC is a national event. In recent years a university campus and its accommodation has been the base for event.

NCYC began in 1955 with an evangelical campaign run by Alan Walker as an activity of the then Central Methodist Mission in Sydney.

Recent history

NCYC 2014 was held in North Parramatta, Sydney from 7 January 2014 to 10 January 2014.

NCYC 2011 was held from 29 December 2010 to 4 January 2011 at the Southport School on the Gold Coast, Queensland.

NCYC09 Converge was held in January 2009 in Melbourne, Victoria. Key speakers included Shane Claiborne, Amie Dural and Robyn Whitaker, along with Daniel Todd and Fa Ngaluafe. Bands included Scat Jazz, Simeon, 2-11 and Raize as well as poet Cameron Semmens and Margaret Helen King.

NCYC 2007 Agents of Change was held in Perth, Western Australia.[9]


The role of the laity is valued in the UCA, recognising that ministry is a function of the whole church and all members. However, certain specific roles or "specified ministries" are defined.[5] Of these, the role of elder and pastor are open to lay members.

There are two orders of ordained ministry in the Uniting Church, these are:

In situations where it is not possible or desired to have an ordained minister a lay pastor (which grew out of the Methodist local preacher tradition) or lay ministry teams may minister, particularly in rural areas.


Church built 1905 in Mundijong

The UCA was one of the first Australian churches to grant self-determination to its Indigenous Australian members through the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress.

Partnerships also continue with South Pacific and Asian churches, especially those which share a Congregational, Presbyterian or Methodist heritage. An increasing number of ethnic churches worship in their own languages as well as in English.

The UCA has a strongly felt and argued sense of social justice. It has taken stances on issues such as native title for Indigenous people, the environment, apartheid, status of refugees and provision of safe injection facilities for drug users. These stances have been expressed in practical involvement and in political comment and advocacy.


Liturgically the UCA is varied, practice ranges from experimental liturgies, informal worship reminiscent of the 'Jesus Revolution' of the 1970s to conventional reformed services. Music is likewise varied, from traditional and contemporary hymns in the Australian Hymn Book and Together in Song, through Hillsong and Contemporary Christian music to hard Christian alternative music and Christian metal.

Decision making

Since 1997 most of these councils and agencies have operated under the consensus decision-making procedures outlined in the church's Manual for Meetings. These procedures may use orange ("support") and blue ("do not support") cards, which may be displayed at many times, not just when a vote is called. The idea behind this is about trying to hear the Spirit of God through the gathered community rather than through individuals.

This system was suggested to the World Council of Churches by the UCA, and first used at its formal meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil in February 2006 H. D'Arcy Wood and James Haire, former presidents of the Uniting Church in Australia, were present to assist with the introduction of this innovation.

Commitment to ecumenism

The Uniting Church is an example of ecumenism; it is one of a number of United and uniting churches globally.

The Uniting Church, as were its precursors, is engaged in ecumenical activities:

The UCA is affiliated with the:

St David's Uniting Church, Haberfield


The range of theology perspectives in the UCA is broad, reflecting its Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational church origins and its commitment to ecumenism. The theology can be typified as mainline Protestantism with a commitment to social justice.

Theological perspectives found in the Uniting Church:

There has been considerable debate around the concerns of morality, faith, and in particular sexuality. These concerns focus on the understanding of the Bible and issues of accommodation to the dominant culture.

The establishment of the Evangelical Members within the Uniting Church in Australia (EMU) was, in part, as a result of their opposition to ordination of gay and lesbian candidates in the lead up to the 1997 Assembly. EMU (also previously known as Evangelical Ministers of the UCA) and the Reforming Alliance are examples of the Confessing Movement. The Confessing Movement should not be confused with the Confessing Church.

Ordination of gay and lesbian people

An issue regularly debated almost from the inception of the Uniting Church in Australia is the place of gay and lesbian people in the church, and in particular the possibility of their ordination.

The fairly broad consensus has been that a person's sexual orientation should not be a bar to attendance, membership or participation in the life of the church. More controversial has been the issue of sexual activity by gay and lesbian people, and arising from this, the question of appropriate behaviour for ordination candidates.


  • 1982 Assembly Standing Committee (ASC) decided that sexual orientation was not a bar to ordination and left the decision about candidature with the presbytery.
  • 1997 Assembly after an emotional debate, a decision on the issue was not made
  • 2000 Assembly decided not to discuss the issue of sexuality.
  • 2003 Assembly attempted to clarify the church's earlier position:
    • a resolution was passed recognising that people within the UCA had interpreted the scriptures with integrity in coming to two opposed views
    • That based on these different views, some concluded that a gay or lesbian person in a committed relationship could be ordained as a minister and others not.
    • The recognition of the two positions failed to distinguish between orientation and behaviour, this surprised many as it went further than the 1982 Assembly Standing Committee decision.
    • Post 2003 Assembly:
      • Uniting Network, a group for supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender UCA members welcomed the decision. Although some saw it as a compromise from their preferred position. (Uniting Network formed out of bi-annual gatherings of gay and lesbian Christians, and their supporters, begun in 1994.)
      • many members of the UCA and particularly EMU condemned the decision
      • The Reforming Alliance was set up - representing EMU, many ethnic congregations and the many in the UAICC.
      • The ASC subsequently varied the wording of the resolution to remove reference to specific positions, so as not to affirm any particular standard of sexual ethics. The ASC also issued an apology that better communication did not occur leading up to 2003 Assembly
      • Leading up to the 2006 Assembly, a church wide process of response, reflection and preparation has been initiated.
  • 2006 Assembly considered the matter again and did not reach consensus:
    • Members of its 11th Assembly meeting in Brisbane agreed they were "not of one mind" on the issue of accepting into ministry people who were living in a committed same-gender sexual relationships.
    • They said that "notwithstanding the hopes of many in the church", the Assembly "is not prepared to exercise further its determining responsibility in this matter".
    • The key elements in the Assembly’s resolution:
      • "our acknowledgment and lament that the 10th Assembly decision was a catalyst for concern and pain in the church;
      • an assurance that congregations who do not wish to receive into placement a minister who is living in a committed same-sex relationship will not be compelled to do so, and that congregations willing to have such a minister will have their decision respected;
      • a request to the Working Group on Doctrine to assist the church in its ongoing consideration of our theological diversity on this issue;
      • a call to the whole church to recommit itself to its primary purposes of worship, witness and service."

Current situation

The Assembly resolution and subsequent ASC material stated that when presbyteries select candidates for ministry they may be guided by a presbytery commitment to a particular approach to sexual ethics, but each determination of candidature must still be made case by case.

During the course of the debate, and in particular from 1997 onwards, some ministers living in same-sex relationships have "come out" without their ordination or ministry being challenged. This means that the Uniting Church in Australia is one of very few Christian denominations that accept and support the ministry of people in same-sex relationships.


The UCA has several people who are acknowledged within itself and more widely as theologians, including:

Assemblies: dates, leaders, locations

(President; General Secretary)

  1. June 1977 Davis McCaughey; Winston O'Reilly; Sydney, New South Wales
  2. May 1979 Winston O'Reilly; O'Reilly to December 1979; Melbourne, Victoria
  3. May 1982 Rollie Busch; David Gill from January 1980; Adelaide, South Australia
  4. May 1985 Ian B. Tanner; David Gill; Sydney
  5. May 1988 Ronald Wilson; David Gill to July 1988; Melbourne
  6. July 1991 D'Arcy Wood; Gregor Henderson from January 1989; Brisbane, Queensland
  7. July 1994 Jill Tabart; Gregor Henderson; Sydney
  8. July 1997 John Mavor; Gregor Henderson; Perth, Western Australia
  9. July 2000 James Haire; Gregor Henderson; Adelaide
  10. July 2003 Dean Drayton; Terence Corkin from January 2001; Melbourne
  11. July 2006 Gregor Henderson; Terence Corkin; Brisbane
  12. July 2009 Alistair Macrae; Terence Corkin; Sydney
  13. July 2012 Andrew Dutney; Terence Corkin; Adelaide
  14. July 2015 Stuart McMillan; Colleen Geyer from January 2016; Perth

Statistics, facts, trivia

  • The Uniting Church in Australia (UCA for initials) is a uniquely Australian church, similar to other united and uniting churches which maintain a cultural identity in their own country while expressing ecumenical fellowship with other Christian denominations worldwide.
  • The Uniting Church in Australia is the third largest church denomination (after Catholic and Anglican).
  • About 5–7% of the membership worship in languages other than English, including Aboriginal tribal languages.[citation needed]
  • Since 1977 over 270,000 poor deceased have had their final cremation at one of the Uniting Churches funeral facilities.

See also


  1. "Census vs Attendance (2001)" National Church Life Survey
  2. "President-Elect announced". Uniting Church in Australia. 16 July 2015. Retrieved 18 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "14th Assembly - Day 6". Uniting Church in Australia. 17 July 2015. Retrieved 18 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Uniting Church in Australia
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Constitution of the Uniting Church in Australia (2004)" Uniting Church Assembly Website
  6. Media Release: ACU and Trinity Theological College unite in a sharing of resources, (26 February 2009), Australian Catholic University, Brisbane accessed 30 March 2015
  7. Perth College of Divinity Inc
  8. "MLC: Private Sydney girls school in turmoil after 30 staff leave, students launch petition". Sydney Morning Herald. 10 December 2015. Retrieved 7 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "NCYC 2007: Agents of Change". Retrieved 9 January 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Official websites

Other websites