Uniting Church in Australia

Uniting Church in Australia
Classification Protestant
Orientation Reformed and Methodist
Polity Interconciliar/Presbyterian
President of the Assembly Stuart McMillan
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, Congregational Union of Australia
Congregations 2,500
Members 1 million[1]
Nursing homes UnitingCare heavily funds the aging sector
Aid organization UnitingCare - 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, about two thirds of the Presbyterian Church of Australia and the almost all churches of 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.[1] National Church Life Survey (NCLS) research in 2001 indicated that average weekly attendance as approximately 10% of this number.[2]


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.
Scots Uniting Church in Albany, Western Australia

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 and was the moderator of the Presbytery and Synod of South Australia from November 2013 to November 2016.[3] She will take office as president at the 15th Assembly, to be hosted by the Synod of Victoria/Tasmania in 2018.[4]

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.


Synods are councils of the Uniting Church that roughly correspond to state boundaries. Each synod meets approximately annually, with a Standing Committee to represent it between sessions. The synod responsibilities include promotion and encouragement of the mission of the Church, theological and ministerial education and overseeing property matters,[5]

There are six synods:[6]


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:


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, however it is committed to being inclusive and there are a number of multicultural ministry (MCM)] arrangements, with Korean, Tongan and other groups forming congregations of the church.

Co-operating congregations

Co-operating congregations, in typically rural areas, have several denominations are worshiping as one congregation, and also rotate which denomination will appoint the next minister. In some places these are known as Union churches, with different denominations using the building at different times.

Frontier Services

Main article: Frontier Services

A formal Frontier Services ministry is available to people in the Australian outback, with ministers and pastors travelling around the bush properties to visit the families by light aircraft and 4WD vehicles. Their visits are normally arranged ahead so that families can travel from adjacent properties for significant events such as baptisms. The "padres" are based in a major town or city and the local synod is normally the organisational and funding body.

Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress

The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) is sometimes referred to simply as the 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.[13]


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; and food kitchens for underprivileged people.

Assemblies and synods have a number of other "agencies", such as:

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."[16]

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.[17]


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.[13] 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), the Reforming Alliance and their merger into the Assembly of Confessing Congregations illustrate conservative opposition to the ordination of gay and lesbian candidates and are examples of the Confessing Movement.[18]

Homosexuality issues

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 and the blessing of same-sex unions. Currently, the church permits local presbyteries to ordain openly gay and lesbian ministers.[19]

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 sexual behaviour of ordination candidates. In 2003, the church voted to allow local presbyteries to decide whether to ordain openly gay and lesbian people as ministers.[20] Although same-sex marriage is not recognised by the law in Australia, ministers may provide blessing services for same-sex couples entering into civil unions.[21]


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 and trivia

See also


  1. 1 2 "Cultural Diversity in Australia". abs.gov.au. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved May 14, 2016.
  2. "Census vs Attendance (2001)" National Church Life Survey
  3. "President-Elect announced". Uniting Church in Australia. 16 July 2015. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  4. "14th Assembly - Day 6". Uniting Church in Australia. 17 July 2015. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  5. "The Uniting Church in Australia Regulations" (PDF). pp. 75–78. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  6. Uniting Church in Australia
  7. "Uniting for the common good.". Synod of NSW and the ACT.
  8. "The Uniting Church in Australia Queensland Synod".
  9. "Uniting Church SA - Uniting Church. Uniting People.".
  10. "Uniting Church in Australia, Western Australia".
  11. "Uniting Church in Australia. Synod of Victoria and Tasmania".
  12. "Uniting Church in Australia Northern Synod".
  13. 1 2 "Constitution of the Uniting Church in Australia (2004)" Uniting Church Assembly Website
  14. Media Release: ACU and Trinity Theological College unite in a sharing of resources, (26 February 2009), Australian Catholic University, Brisbane accessed 30 March 2015
  15. Perth College of Divinity Inc
  16. "MLC: Private Sydney girls school in turmoil after 30 staff leave, students launch petition". Sydney Morning Herald. 10 December 2015. Retrieved 7 January 2016.
  17. "NCYC 2007: Agents of Change". Retrieved 2007-01-09.
  18. The Confessing Movement should not be confused with the Confessing Church.
  19. "Global Trend: World's oldest Protestant churches now ordain gays and lesbians". ucc.org. United Church of Christ. Retrieved April 21, 2016.
  20. O'brien, Kerry. "Nile quits church over gay ordination decision". abc.net.au. ABC. Retrieved April 21, 2016.
  21. Hiatt, Bethany. "Uniting Church may overhaul rules of marriage". au.news.yahoo.com. AU News. Retrieved April 21, 2016.
  22. "2013 Uniting Church Census of congregations and ministers - Headline Report" (PDF). National Church Life Survey Research. p. 4. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
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