In October 2013 what was the Theology and Discipleship unit of the Assembly took on the extra component of Christian Unity and became the Christian Unity, Doctrine and Worship section of the Assembly. Its main responsibility is to serve the three working groups of Christian Unity, Doctrine and Worship. The Operational Guidelines for Theology and Discipleship spoke of having a relationship with Christian Unity. The Mandate of the Christian Unity working group in its Mission Statement said it is “charged to encourage and resource the UCA to pray, study and work towards uniting Christians in faith, worship, witness and ministry”. So there was already an affinity between the three working groups.
Having one National Consultant related to the three working groups means closer connections between them. There is a member of the Christian Unity working group who is also a member of the Doctrine working group. Convenors’ meetings put the convenors of each of the working groups in touch with each other. The Convenors of the Relations with Other Faiths working group and the Mission and Evangelism network are also involved. The convenor of the new Formation, Education and Discipleship working group will be added.
The position description for the National Consultant Christian Unity, Doctrine and Worship says the basic purpose is “to provide leadership and vision to the Church in the areas of Christian unity, worship, doctrine and ecclesiology within the mandate of Uniting Faith and Discipleship.” That mandate has the following:
Uniting Faith and Discipleship will strive to witness to the wholeness of the gospel and the Christian life by affirming and modelling the inter-relationship of scripture, mission, justice, education and theology. It will work in a way that helps the church to celebrate and express the theological, biblical and liturgical richness that arises from the Uniting Church’s racial, cultural and linguistic diversity within contemporary multifaith Australia. It will foster discipleship in the Uniting Church for people of all ages. It will share the Church’s vision of hope and transformation in the public forum.
Being part of Uniting Faith and Discipleship puts Christian Unity, Doctrine and Worship in touch with UnitingJustice, Multicultural and Cross-cultural Ministry, Formation, Education and Discipleship, and Relations with Other Faiths.
The National Consultant is to provide theological leadership to the Assembly and the church more generally in the areas of Christian unity and ecumenism, doctrine and worship. He co-ordinates and resources the functions of the working groups on Christian Unity, Doctrine and Worship; and serves as secretary to the Christian Unity and Doctrine working groups.
Among the privileges of this expanded role was the opportunity for the National Consultant to participate in the World Council of Churches Assembly in Busan, South Korea in October 2013 and the Christian Conference of Asia in Jakarta, Indonesia in May 2015, and be a member of the Executive of the National Council of Churches in Australia.
Australian culture, like Western culture generally, has been undergoing significant changes. The current characteristics of Australian society were spoken about in the last Assembly report. There I wrote about the importance of thinking theologically, living our faith and communication. We need to do so in a context with the following qualities.
2. REASON TO EXPERIENCE
Postmodern culture has moved from and emphasis on reason to giving priority to experience. The primary sources of theological thinking are Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. The Enlightenment gave priority to reason and our culture continues to give weight to scientific reasoning. However in other areas of life it is not reason that is supreme but experience. People want to experience life. Rational argument is less convincing than a person’s experience. Mainstream churches such as the Uniting Church have come out of a background in which reason has been primary. Helping people understand the faith has been the emphasis. The Bible has been approached with a desire to have it make sense to our reason. The shift to experience means that we need to give greater attention to how people might experience the reality of God, know Jesus as Saviour and Lord in their lives, and sense the presence and guidance of the Spirit. While there is a place for ‘head’ knowledge, more important for people is ‘heart’ knowledge. Even in relation to doctrine, a recent theological text by Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine, is approached from a perspective that is not simply rational. In relation to ecumenism, the Christian Unity working group enables people to participate in international ecumenical conferences holding that it is by experiencing sharing with people of other Christian traditions that one’s passion for ecumenism is fostered. Worship also is not just a cerebral event but needs to engage the senses and assist people to experience God. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a primary means of grace and so the Worship working group desires that it be conducted regularly and well.
3. EXPLANATION TO MYSTERY
Related to this is that people are not necessarily requiring a convincing explanation of the Christian faith but are open to mystery. If life and faith can be fully explained this looks limiting for there is a mystery about these that defy rational explanation. While this desire for mystery can lead to irrational convictions and actions, from a Christian perspective we can present God as the mystery of the world. Theologian Eberhard Jungel did this already in the 1980s. Theology always has to recognise that it is partial and provisional for God is greater than our human capacity to speak of God. We need to appreciate that religion taps into depths that go beyond the rational, not always in positive ways. We see this in extremist groups that claim religious motivation. The Christian community at its best helps people to be touched by the Holy Spirit rather than other spirits. Our worship and discipleship training can assist people to discern the spirits, so that people are guided by the Spirit of Jesus and not in contradiction to his way of love, justice and non-violence. We also need to enable people to recognise that all life has a mysterious dimension and we are not to compartmentalise our lives to put mystery and faith into one area marked ‘private’ or ‘religious’. Our ecumenical contact with other Christian traditions, such as the Orthodox, Taize or Iona, can help us to gain a greater appreciation of mystery. Worship planning can seek to foster a sense of mystery through the use of music, images and symbols. How worship is conducted can convey not only friendliness but also that we are entering the presence of an awesome God.
4. WORD TO IMAGE
Our culture has become dominated by images more than words. Pictures and videos convey in a way that is more powerful than words alone. Mainstream churches like ours have tended to be wordy and limited the use of visuals. This is changing. Yet it is not just a matter of banners, digital projectors and other visuals being used. Words themselves can convey images when they appeal to the imagination. Good preaching has always recognised the importance of illustrations and stories to convey the message. It is not just a matter of adding pictures and visuals but of using images appropriately. The Worship working group recommends that when the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are conducted they be done so in a way that is clearly visible. Most churches now use a loaf of bread which is broken by the presider in a visible way before the congregation. The Christian Unity working group points out that sharing in other churches’ worship can prompt ideas as to how we might conduct our worship in more visual ways. Doctrine is inevitably dominated by words but these need to be used in connection with the worship and life of the congregation. Images can stimulate theological reflection also. Our theology is in fact based on the revelation given in Jesus who is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). So we should be familiar with the importance of images and of our lives as followers of Jesus conveying our faith and not just our words. Words still have their place but we need to connect them to images, appropriate images, the primary one being Jesus Christ himself. He is the centre of our faith. He is the one we point people to beyond ourselves and the church which always fall short. Our confidence and hope is not in words or ideas but in the revelation given in the person of Jesus and his message of the reign of God which he embodied.
Rev Dr Chris Walker,
National Consultant Christian Unity, Doctrine and Worship
Christian Unity Working Group
The Uniting Church is part of an amazing web of relationships with other churches through the World Council of Churches, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the World Methodist Council, the Christian Conference of Asia and the Pacific Conference of Churches.
Within Australia, the Uniting Church in Australia is liked to 18 other Christian denominations through our involvement in and membership of the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) and through the covenant signed by member NCCA churches, ‘Australian Churches Covenanting Together.’
The work of the Christian Unity working group is to assist the President and General Secretary in maintaining and developing these ecumenical relationships and in oversight of the UCA teams which conduct the bi-lateral dialogues and conversations between the UCA and some of our partner churches within Australia. The Christian Unity Working Group relates to the committees concerned with ecumenical relations in each synod and reports on a regular basis to the General Secretary and to the Assembly. A major recent focus has been the promotion of the WCC convergence paper, “The Church: Towards a Common Vision.” A draft response from the Uniting Church is before the Assembly and will be sent to the WCC before the end of 2015.
Each bi-lateral dialogue and conversation develops a specific focus and agenda. Currently there are active bi-lateral dialogues with the following churches:
• Anglican Church of Australia
• Lutheran Church of Australia
• Roman Catholic Church
• The Salvation Army
As well as promoting and managing these dialogues, the Christian Unity Working Group oversees Uniting Church participation in ecumenical bodies, especially international conferences. It monitors the ecumenical implications of Assembly decisions and Uniting Church practices and assists the reception of the fruits of ecumenical work within the Uniting Church. Following the WCC Assembly in Busan, South Korea, it has promoted not only the important document, “The Church Towards a Common Vision” but also other significant papers, namely “Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes,” “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World” and “An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace.” See www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents or contact the National Consultant: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Christian Unity Working Group is based in Melbourne. It currently meets four times a year. There is also a two day annual national conference in Melbourne in October which brings together those involved in the dialogues and synod ecumenical representatives along with the members of the Christian Unity Working Group. Reports from those involved in international ecumenical conferences are also received. Members of the working group are appointed by the Assembly Standing Committee after they have submitted their curriculum vitae and been considered by the Christian Unity Working Group, taking into account current members and the need for a balance of people, experience and skills. Expressions of interest are sought.
2.1 Anglican: An agreed statement “Weaving a New Cloth” was sent to the two churches early in 2014 (See Appendix A). It includes six basic theological affirmations and outlines possible forms of cooperation through local inter-church covenants across Australia. In July 2014 it was accepted by the Anglican General Synod, which commended it to the Dioceses for their further action and encouraged its use as a framework for local agreements. In the same month the Assembly Standing Committee commended the statement to the 14th Assembly ‘as the basis for ecumenical cooperation with the Anglican Church of Australia.’ If the Assembly adopts this recommendation, it will be the first significant agreement between the two churches at the national level since 1985, when an agreement was made on baptism. If adopted, it will invite and encourage new efforts by congregations to work together in a wide range of ways in many different contexts throughout the nation.
UCA members of the Dialogue: Rev Prof Chris Mostert (co-chairperson), Ms Maureen Postma, Rev Margaret Blair and Rev Martin Wright.
2.2 Lutheran: The Document, A Great Prayer of Thanksgiving with Commentary, was approved by the Assembly in 2012 for use in UCA congregations and as an educational tool. The dialogue is now working towards A Concordat for full communion (Declaration of Mutual Recognition Point 6) and the LCA’s College of Bishops have given their approval to embark on this journey. To this end the dialogue is looking in depth at the various aspects of the Eucharist – “Real Presence”, “Incarnation”, “Fraction”, “Epiclesis”, “Anamnesis” and identifying both points of agreement and areas of further study. Another discovery is that different perceptions often complement each other rather than become an obstacle to the final goal of sharing around the table. The dialogue has realised the necessity of keeping a record of our discussions and so have begun a paper which tracks the discussion from each meeting and will be used as part of the introduction when we submit our work to the churches.
UCA members of the Dialogue: Rev Dr Anna Grant Henderson (co-chairperson), Rev Denise Liersch, Rev Paul Stephens, Rev Dr Craig Thompson and Rev Dr Rob Gallacher (Rev Dr Julia Pitman resigned)
2.3 Roman Catholic: This dialogue has resumed. They are using a “Receptive Ecumenism” approach, and topics will evolve from their discussions
UCA members of the Dialogue: Rev Bruce Johnson (co-chairperson), Rev Dr David Rankin, Dr Janice Rees, Rev David Busch, Rev Dr Paul Walton and Rev Colleen Geyer (Mr Alan Demack has resigned after 20 years)
2.4 Salvation Army: This dialogue is working on providing a teaching document on holiness and social justice. They intend to speak with one voice. The Baptist/UCA dialogue report on “Church Membership” which has been concluded was accepted as an example of the kind of publication that might be created.
UCA members of the Dialogue: Rev Dr Sandy Yule (co-chairperson), Rev Dr Morag Logan, Rev Rosemary Carter and Rev Dr Glen O’Brien.
3. ECUMENICAL BODIES
3.1 World Council of Churches. The major event since the last CUWG report to the Assembly was the WCC Assembly in Busan, South Korea in October 2013. This was an inspiring and enlivening gathering that only happens once in 7 years. A number of Uniting Church people attended. Gregor Henderson assisted with the consensus decision making procedures being used. Ms Emily Evans was elected to the Central Committee. She also attended a WCC gender conference in Cyprus in November 2014. There is discussion in particular about “The Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace” and how UCA people can be involved in this.
3.2 Global Christian Forum. The Global Christian Forum is an important new ecumenical development as it involves the WCC, Roman Catholic, Evangelical and Pentecostal communities. Two major projects are being taken up: a global conversation on “Discrimination, Persecution and Martyrdom” and “Call to Mission, Perceptions of Proselytism.” The Revd Dr. Robert Gribben has been connected with the Global Christian Forum, both through his involvement in the World Methodist Council, and also represents the UCA.
3.3 World Communion of Reformed Churches. The Revd Denise Liersch attended two of their conferences in the USA in 2014, the first on the meaning of confessional documents in the life of the church and the second on the meaning of communion. A significant document is the Lutheran-Reformed statement, “Communion: On Being the Church.” The WCRC office shifted in Jan 2014 from Geneva to Hannover, and the position of General Secretary was handed over in Aug 2014 from the Revd Dr. Setri Nyomi (after 14 years) to the Revd Chris Ferguson. The next General Assembly will be held in June 2017 in Erfurt, Germany.
3.4 World Methodist Council. The Revd Dr. Robert Gribben is very involved as chair of the Ecumenical Relations Committee. Ms Anne Connan is President of the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women. The General Secretary, Bishop Ivan Abraham, has been enabled to travel more to encourage member churches. He was in Sydney in February 2013 to present the 2012 World Methodist Peace Award to Ms Joy Balazo for her work through UnitingWorld. World Evangelism is an active committee and has a new director, the Revd Dr. Kimberley Reisman following the retirement of long-time director, Revd Dr Eddie Fox. The Ecumenical Relations committee has finalised the report of the Anglican-Methodist dialogue, “Into All the World” which was launched on 17 March, 2015. The next World Methodist Council and Conference will be held in Houston, Texas in September 2016.
3.5 United and Uniting Churches: The Revd Charity Majiza has been a member of the continuation committee since the previous international consultation of these churches that was held in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2008. The committee met in Utrecht in the Netherlands in September 2014. The meeting was hosted by the Protestant Church of the Netherlands (PCN) and sponsored by World Council of Churches’ Faith and Order Commission. Among other things they discussed the visibility and contribution the United and Uniting Churches can make in the WCC and in Christian World Communions (CWCs). Members of the committee were invited to join in the celebrations of the 10th Anniversary of the PCN where a book, The Protestant Church in the Netherlands: Church Unity in the 21st Century, Stories and Reflection was launched. The next consultation will be held in Chennai, India from 25 November to 2 December 2015 and it is to be hosted by the Church of South India. The theme is: “Living in Tents” (Heb.11: 9): “The Pilgrimage of the United and Uniting Churches”. This consultation is held once in seven years.
3.6 Christian Conference of Asia. Ms Tess Keam attended a consultation on “Moving Beyond Conflict: Ensuring Human Dignity and Security” in October 2014 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Ms Bridget Ocean attended the 5th Asian Conference of Theology Students in October 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The CCA Assembly was held in May 2015 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Five Uniting Church representatives attended including Ms Sally Andrews as the youth representative. Sally also attended the Youth Pre Assembly event.
3.7 Pacific Conference of Churches. The Pacific Conference of Churches met in March 2013 in Honiara, Solomon Islands. Six Uniting Church people attended including the Revd Rronang Garrawurra of the UAICC who made a positive impression on the gathering. The Uniting Church has been accepted as a member of the PCC. UnitingWorld takes the lead in managing the relationship. The Revd Sef Carroll is now the Church Partnerships, Pacific person for UnitingWorld.
4. NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES IN AUSTRALIA
The NCCA Constitution states the purpose is to “gather together in pilgrimage those Churches and Christian communities which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures and commit themselves to deepen their relationship with each other in order to express more visibly the unity by Christ for his church, and to work together towards the fulfilment of their mission of common witness, proclamation and service.” It works with an explicit awareness of the Australian context, in particular its Aboriginal and Islander heritage, multi-cultural experience, and the current setting of its churches in a post-Christian, multi-faith and secular environment within the Asia-Pacific region.
Rev Tara Curlewis served as the NCCA General Secretary from April 2009 – July 2014. Anglican Bishop Philip Huggins served as interim General Secretary until Sr Elizabeth Delaney, of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict, accepted the call to be NCCA General Secretary for the next three years beginning in January 2015. The current NCCA President is Rev Dr Mike Semmler from the Lutheran Church. Prior to his death from cancer, Catholic Bishop Michael Putney was President. He was not only a national but an international figure in ecumenical matters. Rev Ken Sumner served as National Director of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Ecumenical Council from May 2013 – December 2014. Rev Dr Cathy Thomson, Director of Formation and Lecturer in Theology at St Francis Theological College in Brisbane, was elected chairperson of the NCCA Faith and Unity Commission in November 2013 for three years. The Christian World Service Commission changed its name to The Act for Peace Commission in 2013. It conducts the well-known Christmas Bowl appeal of which the Uniting Church is the strongest supporter. The Executive is in the process of reviewing the priorities of the NCCA.
5. THE CHURCH: TOWARDS A COMMON VISION
The printing and dissemination of this document has been the main focus of the Christian Unity Working Group since its release in late 2013. The document has been promoted in presbyteries and theological colleges by members of the Working Group, Synod Ecumenical personnel and the National Consultant. Hard copies are available from the Assembly office. The Christian Unity and Doctrine Working Groups have studied it carefully and there was a joint conversation at the National Conference. The UCA response to the 5 questions asked of the churches by the WCC was prepared by the National Consultant informed by these discussions. The Rev Dr Sandy Yule read drafts of the response and provided comments, as have members of the Christian Unity and Doctrine Working Groups, and their Corresponding members. The Christian Unity Working Group brings a Draft to the Assembly for discussion and acceptance. The document is provided as document B – 26.
6. ECUMENICAL CHALLENGES
Ecumenical activities and discussions continue to be shaped by current realities, and it is heartening to acknowledge continuing commitment to finding ways to be ‘Christians together’ in the 21st century.
How do we discern the way the Spirit is working? The Global Christian Forum is a positive and significant new development. Local churches are cooperating in specific ways. International structures are working to maintain their relevance to member churches. For this we give thanks to God as we journey together.
The annual National Conference organised by the Christian Unity Working Group is a valuable time, not only to hear what is happening ecumenically nationally and internationally, but also to discuss together issues of joy and concern as we seek to live out the ecumenical vision and foundation of the Uniting Church within Australia and with our overseas partners.
In some circles there is talk of multi-faith relations being added to ecumenical relations groups. The danger is that ecumenical relations will be lost in the larger task. The two are in fact distinct tasks. The Assembly has a Relations with Other Faiths working group.
7. CUWG MEMBERSHIP AND RELATIONSHIPS
The Christian Unity Working Group consists of the following people.
Ms Maureen Postma (Convenor), Rev Dr Chris Walker (Secretary and National Consultant), Rev. Terence Corkin (ex officio), Rev Dr Avril Hannah-Jones, Mr Gavin Faichney, Ms Joan McRae, Rev Dr. Robert Gribben, Rev Margie Dahl, Rev Charity Majiza, Rev Jason Kioa, Rev Jacob Yang, Rev Dr. Morag Logan and Rev Fie Marino.
During the triennium the Rev Susan Malthouse, Ms Isabel Thomas-Dobson and Rev Dr. Rob Gallacher resigned.
Avril Hannah-Jones represents the Christian Unity working group on the Doctrine working group.
Christian Unity, Doctrine and Worship are linked through having a common National Consultant.
There is also communication with other Assembly bodies particularly Multicultural and Cross Cultural Ministry, Relations with Other Faiths, UnitingWorld and UnitingJustice.
Rev Andrew Tiver, Rev Dr. Chris Mostert, Rev Rachel Kronberger, Ms Isabel Thomas-Dobson, Rev Dr. D’Arcy Wood, Ms Judi Fisher and Rev Gay Loftus
Rev Dr Chris Walker
Secretary, Christian Unity Working Group
Ms Maureen Postma
Chairperson Christian Unity Working Group
Worship Working Group
Over the past three years the Working Group on Worship has continued to respond to requests for resources from both the Assembly Standing Committee and the wider church. It has also taken a number of initiatives of its own. The Working Group has worked closely with other departments and agencies of the church, especially with Uniting Justice and the Working Group on Doctrine. It has also met for conversation on matters of common concern with the Assembly Mission and Evangelism Network and the Assembly Lay and Leadership Educators Network. It continues to be represented at meetings of the Australian Consultation on Liturgy (ACOL) and the Together in Song Hymnbook Committee.
2. NEW AND EXPANDED WORSHIP RESOURCES
A major part of the Working Group’s energy is directed to the development of new resources. Some of these resources are liturgical and others are educational. The greater part of this material, once approved by the Standing Committee, is posted to the Assembly Website. We do our best to make it known that these resources are readily available. The website has been subject to a comprehensive review and upgrade over recent time.
3. NEW MATERIAL PREPARED DURING THE TRIENNIUM INCLUDES:
3.1 Resources for the week of Prayer and Fasting and the Vigil in Canberra (in March 2014). We have also placed on the website substantial prayer and worship resources suitable for use by and / or with First Peoples.
3.2 A Service of Recognition of a lay person authorised to celebrate the sacraments.
3.3 A Service of Induction for a Defence Force Chaplain.
3.4 A paper prepared by the Rev Rod Horsfield (“Alive to Worship”) is available both on the website and in booklet form. It provides ideas about how our worship can be contemporary and creative as well as being consistent with our UCA tradition and theology.
3.5 The Working Group has now produced three educational DVD’s:
A Guide to Worship for the People of God
The Prayers of the People
Hundreds of these DVD’s have been sent out free of charge on request and have been very well received.
3.6 In addition, all our Ordination, Induction and Commissioning Services have been amended, in accordance with a decision of the 13th Assembly, to include reference to the Covenant made with Congress and a commitment to work with both First and Second Peoples.
3.7 A Calendar of Other Commemorations is a valuable resource for preaching, teaching and the devotional life. Over the past couple of years it has been significantly expanded to include many helpful articles and other resources. It is readily accessible on the website.
4. OTHER MAJOR INITIATIVES
A key project of the Working Group since the last Assembly has been the organisation of Songwrite, an initiative that gathers together songwriters and musicians, along with experienced mentors, to engage in the composition of new songs for worship. The first of these workshops was held in Canberra in 2013 and was an outstanding success. A second will be staged in Adelaide in June 2015. The Working Group sees this project as a very effective way of gathering contemporary music resources from within the life of the Uniting Church that are of a high standard, both musically and theologically.
4.2 Colloquium on the Teaching of Worship in the Uniting Church
In Adelaide in early December, 2014, the Working Group convened a gathering of Theological College faculty, teachers from Lay Education Centres, and Synod and Presbytery staff involved in lay education, to reflect on the teaching of worship in the Uniting Church. There was a significant convergence of thinking in regard to the challenges involved in educating ministers, pastors, lay preachers and lay worship leaders to prepare and lead worship in our contemporary context in a manner that is consistent with the tradition and faith of the church.
We believe it is essential to clearly identify the relevant competencies and qualities required of those who lead worship and for there to be a clear commitment across the life of the church to train and equip those entrusted with this responsibility. We believe that our ministers should understand that they have a key role in this process and therefore should be equipped to undertake this task as part of their own formation for ministry.
5. RELOCATION OF THE WORKING GROUP
The current Working Group has proposed, and the Standing Committee has agreed, that the Working Group on Worship be relocated to South Australia following the 14th Assembly.
The Worship Working Group has consisted of the following people.
David Pitman (Convenor), John Tainton (Secretary), Chris Walker (National Consultant), Jenny Tymms, Peter Gador-Whyte, Josie Neuendorff, Craig Mitchell, Sharon Kirk, David MacGregor, Wendy Sargenat and Gewa Au
During triennium Garry Deverell and David Kim resigned. Graham Vawser joined the group in preparation for becoming the new convenor.
Rev Dr David Pitman
Worship Working Group
Doctrine Working Group
The Assembly ‘has determining responsibility for matters of doctrine’ (Basis of Union, par 15e). The Working Group on Doctrine therefore responds to requests for work in particular areas from the Assembly and Assembly Standing Committee, and also initiates discussion concerning church life and practice.
2. DOCTRINE AND OUR CONTEMPORARY CONTEXT
Australia is a multi-cultural and multi-faith society. This is both a great gift and a great challenge to a church like the Uniting Church in Australia. We can no longer take for granted a privileged position within civil society as a mainstream Christian denomination. Australia is also an increasingly secularised society, in which people of all faiths are now confronted by aggressive atheism and the fears caused by the actions of a few religious fundamentalists. In this context it remains vital for the Church to be clear about who we are and what we believe. It is the task of the Working Group on Doctrine to facilitate that clarity.
As well as these external challenges, the Uniting Church is also challenged internally by a variety of theological extremisms. On the one hand there are those who espouse biblical literalism and theological fundamentalism, contrary to the way the faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic church as described in the Basis of Union. On the other hand there are those who espouse an extreme form of ‘Progressive Christianity’ that seeks to discard core tenets of the Christian faith including the Incarnation and the doctrine of the Trinity. The Working Group on Doctrine works to contextualise the historic Christian faith in contemporary Australia, making a clear distinction between those matters that are not of the substance of the faith and those that are essential and must be preserved.
3. PARTICULAR WORK UNDERTAKEN
The Working Group has taken up a number of tasks:
3.1 Discussion Paper on Marriage
The Assembly requested the Working Group to consult widely with the Church before preparing a discussion paper on the theology of marriage; and to explore any implications for public covenants for same-gender relationships. The Report outlines the extensive consultation process; a description of the approach taken by the Working Group; a summary of the key themes from the responses received from approximately 438 groups and individuals; and a mapping of the further resourcing the Working Group believes the Church needs to make faithful and well-informed decisions in this area. The Working Group was grateful for the work of Rev Dr Rob Bos at various stages of its task including assisting in the development of the consultation process, training facilitators and assisting in early stages of summarising responses and report writing. The process was a salutary one from the perspective of the Doctrine Working Group. The theological diversity within our Church has always been evident. However the Working Group was concerned about the number of responses whose lack of theological depth indicated a superficial engagement with the biblical texts, or an uncritical acceptance of contemporary social norms as determinative. We hope the Assembly will support the Doctrine Working Group’s desire to do further work on this question in order to assist the Church to approach these important issues from the rich resources of our biblical, theological and scholarly heritage, and the lived experience of our diverse community of faith.
3.2 The Preamble to the Constitution
The work of promoting the Preamble to the Constitution of the Uniting Church following its acceptance at the 12th Assembly in 2009 has continued to occupy the Working Group. The task of communicating the Preamble and its implications for the Church was challenging. In 2012 three members of the Working Group visited Aboriginal leaders in East Arnhem Land to receive feedback on the Preamble and to listen to them about how the Preamble might be communicated throughout the Congress. A first step was the translation of the Preamble into three or four of the main languages used in Congress communities. This work is underway and a ‘back translation’ in preparation for this work has been completed. We are seeking to undertake this work with sensitivity to cultural methods of working and with the assistance of the NRCC.
The Doctrine Working Group is also working with the UAICC and the Assembly Formation, Education and Discipleship Unit to produce a study resource for the Preamble with a view to raising awareness of this important document across the Church. It will be a video based resource.
Further work on appropriate modes of communication has yet to be done. The decision of the 12th Assembly to include the Preamble in the Constitution is an important witness to the Australian community of the Church’s commitment to recognition of and reconciliation with the First Peoples. It is especially important as Australia moves towards a national referendum on Constitutional Recognition possibly as early as 2017.
3.3 A Season of Teaching and Learning
Following a proposal from the Doctrine Working Group, the 13th Assembly resolved to have a ‘season of teaching and learning’ in 2014 and asked the Working Group to recommend and provide resources.
In addition to the ongoing work of the Working Group in developing resources for the church on matters of doctrine, the Working Group pursued this remit by hosting conferences, generating new resources for group study and recommending existing resources to the Church.
As part of the Season of Teaching and Learning, the Doctrine Working Group decided to hold two back-to-back conferences on ‘The Basis of Union: catalyst for Renewal’ and ‘Preaching for Transformation’. It did this in conjunction with UTC and Uniting Mission and Education of the NSW/ACT Synod. These were held in August 2014 which was seminar week for the NSW/ACT Synod. Over 65 people attended each conference. The Basis of Union conference was enriched by the presence of two scholars from Nanjing Union Theological Seminary and the China Christian Council who actively participated with the support of UnitingWorld. Presentations and opportunities for questions were provided. Alistair Macrae led a panel discussion of younger adults for one stimulating session.
The main speaker for the preaching conference ‘Preaching for Transformation’ was Reverend Dr Clay Schmit, a Lutheran from the USA. He led several engaging sessions. Electives gave people the opportunity to choose from a range of people and topics. The conference concluded with a panel of the speaker and elective leaders responding to questions.
3.5 New Resources
The Doctrine Working Group produced three group study resources which were published by Mediacom and widely promoted across the Church. These were ‘Living the Christian Life’ by Rod Horsfield, ‘Christianity in the twenty-first century’ by Avril Hannah-Jones and ‘Jesus Christ in the Basis of Union by Geoff Thompson.’ They are still available from MediaCom.
3.6 Resource bibliography
A comprehensive list of existing resources was developed, in consultation with educators and with MediaCom. This was widely promoted across the church, including on the MediaCom website.
3.7 Other publications
Doc.bytes were produced on ‘Conversion’ and ‘Worship. Further Doc.bytes on ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ and ‘Science and Faith’ are in draft form at the time of this report. Pamphlets were produced on ‘Making up our Mind: Moral discernment in the UCA’ and ‘Alive to God in worship’. A paper was also written on ‘The Uniting Church and the Reformed and Evangelical Tradition.’
4. WORKING WITH OTHER WORKING GROUPS OF THE ASSEMBLY
The Doctrine Working Group works in collaboration with other Working Groups of the Assembly, most closely with the Working Group on Worship, with whom it shares the National Consultant, and the Christian Unity Working Group, with whom it shares both the National Consultant and a Working Group member.
The pamphlet “Alive to God in Worship” was approved by both the Worship Working Group and the Doctrine Working Group. The Doctrine Working Group resourced the response of the Christian Unity Working Group to the World Council of Churches’ text The Church: Towards a Common Vision by providing papers and jointly discussing the response at the Christian Unity Working Group national conference in October 2014. The discussion paper on marriage was distributed widely throughout the Church.
5. PLANNED WORK FOR THE NEXT TRIENNIUM
This will include: on-going work on the Preamble, expected referred work from the Assembly and the ASC and the continued provision of resources such as Doc.bytes.
The Doctrine Working Group has consisted of the following people.
Alistair Macrae (Convenor), Chris Walker (Secretary and National Consultant), Carolyn Thornley (ex officio), Glenda Blakefield (ex officio), Rod Horsfield, Avril Hannah-Jones, Rachel Kronberger, Geoff Thompson, Ann Perrin, Alan Robinson, Ben Myers and John Hirt.
During the triennium Wes Campbell, Ockert Myer, Chris Goringe and Lu Senituli resigned.
Rev Alistair Macrae
Doctrine Working Group
I wish to thank Chris Walker for the way in which he follows through his role with the Doctrine, Worship and Christian Unity Working Groups, plus his commitment to the Mission and Evangelism Network. Chris has been an invaluable member of all these groups.
The working groups on Doctrine and Worship have benefitted from the leadership of their convenors. Rev Alistair Macrae has provided leadership to the Doctrine Working Group over the last three years. He has been supported by an active group of members from the NSW/ACT Synod and in the past few years more members from the Vic/Tas Synod. The Working Group will relocate to Melbourne following the Assembly.
Rev Dr David Pitman has been the Convenor of the Worship Working Group for the last five years. As this Working Group moves its meeting base to South Australia, I thank David and the members of the Working Group for their work over the past triennium and David for overseeing this move. Rev Dr Graham Vawser is to be the new Convenor of the Worship Working Group.
Rev Peter Armstrong has been the Convenor of the Mission and Evangelism network with Rev Dr Duncan Macleod as deputy. The national Mission and Evangelism conference held in Adelaide in March 2014 was very significant. Rev Scott Guyatt is now the Convenor and the network has been transferred to link with Craig Mitchell and Formation, Education and Discipleship.
Ms Maureen Postma, the Christian Unity Working Group Chairperson, has worked with Chris Walker in the Assembly Standing Committee’s decision to bring Christian Unity under the umbrella of Theology and Discipleship. This move has certainly made sense in carrying the questions from the dialogues and the work of Christian Unity more closely into the forums of doctrine and worship. I thank Maureen for her leadership. Rev Dr Morag Logan will become the new Chairperson of the Christian Unity Working Group.
I thank the Working Groups and the Network for both the projects and conferences they have organised and also for the resources they have provided to the Uniting Church as a whole.
Twice a year I host a meeting of Convenors: once face to face and once a teleconference. We are joined by the Convenor of the Relations with Other Faiths Working Group and in the future the Formation, Education and Discipleship Convenor. This has been a valuable time of hearing across the activities of the various working groups but also in seeking ways in which to work together.
We give thanks to God for all who dedicate time to the Working Groups enabling robust discussions and a diversity in thinking.
Rev Carolyn Thornley
Theology and Discipleship
Weaving a New Cloth Anglican and Uniting Churches Working Together Preamble
This document proposes a framework for local cooperation between Anglican and Uniting churches throughout Australia.
Local cooperation is the most promising avenue for ecumenism today, with growing numbers of congregations working and worshipping together. Increasingly, it is here that fruitful “ecumenical space” is to be found, in which different Christian communities can walk together in the way of Christ, and each discover the gifts the other tradition has to offer.
The Joint Working Group offers this framework in the hope that it will assist both our churches to encourage and support cooperation at the local level. In doing so, we build upon the work of previous dialogues, trusting that the benefit of many years’ conversation will be more fully realized in time to come.
This document honours each church’s understanding of the relationship that can exist between us, setting out what is possible, and what is not, within current constraints. At present, this includes eucharistic hospitality but precludes formal intercommunion and the mutual recognition of ordained ministries. It seems to us that this is a constructive ecumenical step that can be taken now, in openness to whatever future directions might emerge for conversation out of a strengthened experience of locally shared worship and mission.
A Biblical Vision of Christian Unity
The unity of Christians is a gift from God before it is a task for the church. Our unity is in Christ. He is our peace, creating in himself one new humanity across humankind’s divisions, reconciling Jew and Gentile to God in one body through the cross (Eph. 2:14-16). In Christ we are built together spiritually, across our differences, into a dwelling place for God (2:22). This is a spiritual unity, grounded in the unity and mutual indwelling of the Father and the Son and in the unity of believers with the Son and the Father (John 17:20-21).
However, the unity of believers with each other, for which Jesus prays, a unity in diversity, is also a visible unity. Moreover, not an end in itself, it is a missional unity. The unity of Christians serves the mission of the triune God: that the world may believe that the Father has sent the Son (John 17:21) and the Spirit (John 14:26). To fail to make this unity visible and concrete is to dishonour the gift of God in Christ.
All Christian churches are called to give expression to this gift. Together with other churches, our two churches have pledged, through the “Covenanting Together” process of the National Council of Churches in Australia, “to explore such further steps as will be necessary to make more clearly visible the unity of all Christian people in this country”. The possibilities outlined in this document, approved by our two churches at national level, are significant steps for Anglican and Uniting parishes and congregations to consider taking together in their local worship, education and mission.
1. Each of our churches stands in the continuity of the apostolic faith, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.
2. Each of our churches is part of the one holy catholic and apos¬tolic church. Acknowledging our failure to enact fully our calling, both our churches witness faithfully to the gospel and seek to be more fully engaged in God’s mission in the world.
3. In each of our churches the Holy Spirit gives to the whole people of God gifts for the upbuilding of the church and for its continuation in the mission of Jesus Christ.
4. The ordained ministry in both our churches is given by God as an instrument of grace, notwithstanding our different understandings of it. By this ministry, the people of God are called to faith, strengthened to witness to the gospel and empowered to serve in hope and love.
5. In each of our churches the word of God is faithfully preached and the sacraments of baptism and holy communion are duly administered in accor¬dance with each church’s tradition.
6. Personal, communal and collegial oversight (episcope) is exercised in both our churches, albeit in different forms, to serve the church’s unity and its faithfulness to the gospel.
Forms of Cooperation
Local inter-church covenants across Australia give expression to the commitment of church people to make visible the unity that we have in Christ.
Possibilities listed below are not sequential but have developed out of particular circumstances—some out of ecumenical commitment, others because of changed conditions. In all situations, consideration must be given to every aspect and implication of cooperating arrangements and the different approvals and agreements required for different levels of cooperation.
Hospitality can take many forms. Anglican and Uniting Church members are welcome to attend services in each other’s churches. Eucharistic hospitality may be offered to baptized and communicant members of each other’s churches. Hospitality can also include the sharing of buildings, and shared activities are encouraged as common witness and mission in local communities.
A stronger visible expression of the unity we share as a gift from God is seen as we deepen our relationships in shared worship, bible study and fellowship groups, and these occasions give witness to the Christian faith we hold in common. Formal shared events are more meaningful when planned by representatives of both church communities.
Shared Ministry in Mission
In some circumstances, Anglican and Uniting churches decide to share resources to better provide ministry and pastoral services. These resources may include staff or volunteers, buildings or finances. Ministry may be for specific communities, e.g. chaplaincies in schools or aged care, or for the wider community within a specific geographic area.
The vision for such shared ministry may come from the local community, or the missional imperative from the leadership of either church in a specific area. Where the impetus comes from local congregations, plans for these shared ministries are presented to the relevant Anglican Diocesan Bishop and the relevant Uniting Church Presbytery.
The establishment of a joint congregation, i.e. one congregation made up of members of the two ecclesial traditions, requires the agreement of local councils of both churches’ parishioners and the approval of the appropriate governance within both the Anglican and Uniting churches. Each of the original congregations retains its separate identity, membership and links (spiritual, doctrinal, sacramental, liturgical and financial) to its church, according to the provisions and degree of collaboration. They share resources such as church buildings and ministries, and unite in local mission.
Agreement must be reached within the Anglican Parish Council and Uniting Church Congregation and Church Council. Approval is also required from the relevant Anglican Diocesan Bishop and the relevant Uniting Church Presbytery. Depending on circumstances, approval of the relevant
Property Trusts may also be required.
Planned Common Witness
In areas of new growth or rejuvenation it is possible for both churches to work together to construct buildings for shared usage, common witness and ministry. Constitutional issues of both churches must be addressed, but the witness of the unity we have in Christ to the wider community presents opportunities and challenges which are invaluable.
Arguably the most significant development in the last decade or so for ecumenism has been the development of the concept of Receptive Ecumenism. At the heart of this endeavour is the conviction that the primary ecumenical responsibility is to ask not “What do the other traditions first need to learn from us?” but “What do we need to learn from them?”. If our two churches were asking this question seriously and acting upon it, then we would be moving in ways that would both deepen our authentic respective identities and draw us into more intimate relationship.
The Joint Working Group offers “Weaving a New Cloth: Anglican and Uniting Churches Working Together” for the prayerful consideration of our two churches. As a further step on the journey, and building on the work already undertaken between our respective churches, we remain convinced that the next steps outlined in this proposal will offer tangible evidence of our commitment to the relational unity which is both the desire and the command of our Lord (John 17:20-23). We commend the report to the General Synod of the Anglican Church and the National Assembly of the Uniting Church.
Rt. Rev. John Parkes Rev. Prof. Christiaan Mostert for the Joint Working Group
For Further Information
More Covenants and Agreements are listed in ‘When Churches Join’ (see below).
http://www.ncca.org.au/departments/faith-unity for ‘Week of Prayer for Christian
(The search for St. Peter and Emmaus Church on the Anglican website leads to this UCA link.)
Planned Ecumenical Witness
http://www.emmanuel.unitingchurch.org.au (the website listed by both the Anglican
Diocese and the Uniting Presbytery)
• Anglican-Methodist International Commission for Unity In Mission (AMICUM) Report, due to be made public in 2014. Access to this report will be publicized in due course.
• The Trinity Declaration and Code of Practice for Local Co-operation in Victoria between the Anglican Church of Australia and the Uniting Church in Australia.
• When Churches Join (a good summary of issues that arise as Christian communities begin to discuss developing ecumenical cooperating partnerships, plus listings of Covenants and Agreements).
• The Gift of Each Other; Learning From Other Christians, a Parish Workbook on Receptive Ecumenism, published by the New South Wales Ecumenical Council, 2013.
Membership of the Joint Working Group
Rt. Rev. John Parkes (co-chair)
Rt. Rev. Peter Danaher
Canon Dr. Colleen O’Reilly
Rev. Prof. Christiaan Mostert (co-chair)
Rev. Margaret Blair
Rev. Martin Wright