Uniting Church in Australia

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The Uniting Church in Australia is the third largest Christian denomination in Australia (the Roman Catholic church and the Anglican churches are larger), with about 2,500 congregations.


The UCA formed on 22 June 1977 when all but a very few congregations of the Methodist Church of Australasia, plus most from the Presbyterian Church of Australia, and almost all from the Congregational Union of Australia, came together under the "Basis of Union" [1] document.

In the few years immediately after Union there was considerable rationalisation of church properties where two from the former denominations were close to each other as often happened in many localities. Many former Presbyterian or Methodist churches can be seen now modified into multiple dwelling residences or commercial uses.


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

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, and Moderator of Synods (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, meaning it has no bishops. The leadership and pastoral role in the UCA is performed by Presbytery as a body (meeting). However, many members appear to understand the 'Chairperson of Presbytery' or the 'Moderator' of the Synod as exercising a role similar to bishop. 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.

Social action

The Uniting Church in Australia, through its overarching national agency UnitingCare, is the largest provider of general social care in the nation, and the largest provider 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. The various state and national UnitingCare organisations regularly comment on government policy matters as they relate to social justice. In 2006, the current national Director of UnitingCare was elected by constituent organisations to be the President of the Australian Council of Social Services.

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

Difficult decisions

The UCA took the difficult decision to become the nominated operator of New South Wales Government approved Safe Injecting Drug Room in Kings Cross, the "red light district" of Sydney. This brought significant attention to the UCA's social justice stance, but has been of considerable and demonstrable benefit to the people of the area. Over time, this has become a non-issue both within the church and wider society.

Commitment to ecumenism

The Uniting Church is among the uniting-united churches globally, is committed to ecumenism, and is engaged in ecumenical activities;

  • locally through interchurch councils
  • at the State level through state councils of churches
  • Nationally as a member of the National Council of Churches in Australia and
  • through a variety of informal and formal dialogues with other denominations.

Internationally, the UCA is affiliated with the:

  • Christian Conference of Asia
  • World Alliance of Reformed Churches
  • World Council of Churches
  • World Methodist Council

Ministry in the UCA

The role of the laity is valued in the UCA; specific roles include Elder and Lay Preacher. In certain circumstances lay persons may be licensed by Presbytery to preside at certain saceaments, notably Communion.

There are two orders of ministry in the Uniting Church:

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 Team, may minister, particularly in rural areas.


Liturgically the UCA is varied, ranging from experimental liturgies, informal worship reminiscent of the 'Jesus Revolution' of the 1970s including 'cade church', to conventional reformed services. Music is likewise varied, from traditional hymns especially from the superseded but still popular Australian Hymn Book through Hillsong and Contemporary Christian music to hard Christian alternative music and Christian metal.


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 Protestant with a commitment to social justice.

Theological perspectives found in the Uniting Church can be described as:

  • evangelical
  • fundamentalist
  • Mainline
  • left or progressive
  • liberal


There has been considerable debate in the UCA since 1982 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 gay ordination 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.)

The Assembly session in 2006 chose to conclude that the church is not "in one mind" on certain issues relating to sexuality, thus avoiding conflict notably brought about by the advent of EMU that centred on the issue of accepting into ministry people who were living in a committed same-gender sexual relationships.

  • Assembly 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 acknowledgement 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-gender 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 our 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 material from the Standing Committee has made clear 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 on a case by case basis.

Decision making

Since 1997 most of the 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. Consensus: a colourful farewell to majority rule. Rev. Dr H. D'Arcy Wood and Rev. Dr James Haire, former presidents of the Uniting Church in Australia, were present to assist with the introduction of this innovation.

Assembly No., Date, President & General Secretary; Location

1. June 1977, J Davis McCaughey; Rev. Winston O’Reilly; Sydney, New South Wales
2. May 1979, Rev. Winston O’Reilly; Rev. Winston O’Reilly to December 1979; Melbourne, Victoria
3. May 1982, Rev. Rollie Busch; David Gill from January 1980; Adelaide, South Australia
4. May 1985, Rev. Ian Tanner; David Gill; Sydney
5. May 1988, Sir Ronald Wilson; David Gill to July 1988; Melbourne
6. July 1991, Rev. H. D'Arcy Wood ; Rev. Gregor Henderson from January 1989; Brisbane, Queensland
7. July 1994, Jill Tabart; Rev. Gregor Henderson; Sydney
8. July 1997, Rev. John E Mavor; Rev. Gregor Henderson; Perth, Western Australia
9. July 2000, Rev. James Haire; Rev. Gregor Henderson; Adelaide
10. July 2003, Rev. Dean Drayton; Rev. Terence Corkin from January 2001; Melbourne
11. July 2006, Rev. Gregor Henderson; Rev. Terence Corkin; Brisbane

See also


External links