The Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) was formally established on June 22, 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, a document which sets out the church’s way of living and being.
In uniting, the three original members saw a unity "which is both Christ’s gift and will for the church".
The triennial Assembly of the Uniting Church is the meeting of representatives elected by synods and presbyteries to form the national council of the church, with responsibility in matters of doctrine, worship, government and discipline. It meets every three years to set national policy and promote the church's mission in the world. The outcome is a series of decisions affecting the corporate life of the church over the following three years.
Paragraph six of the Basis of Union "acknowledges that Christ has commanded his Church to proclaim the gospel both in words and in the two visible acts of Baptism and the Lord's Supper".
As such, the church baptises those who confess the Christian faith and children presented for baptism and takes responsibility for their instruction and nourishment in the faith.
The Assembly in 1979 said,
"Baptism is administered by washing with water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Such a washing may be by immersion, or pouring or a sprinkling in which the water is seen to flow on the candidate. Baptism so administered may never be repeated."
The Uniting Church ordains those it believes God has called to be ministers of the word and deacons as well as commissioning lay people it believes have been called to serve in such roles as elders, lay preachers, youth workers and community ministers. (For further information, please visit Placements.)
As required by the Basis of Union, the Uniting Church ordains both women and men to the ministry of the Word; it believes ordination without discrimination on grounds of gender is a fundamental implication of the gospel of God’s love in Christ for all human beings, without distinction.
At the 6th Assembly, in 1991, the Uniting Church affirmed the renewal of the diaconate, meaning deacons became ordained in ministry with a focus on service.
The Uniting Church has had a long and often painful history with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In 1985 the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) was formed as a national body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within the Uniting Church. The UAICC is dedicated to seeking the spiritual, physical, social, mental and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
At its 7th Assembly, the Uniting Church formally entered into a relationship of Covenant with its Indigenous members, recognising and repenting for the church's complicity in the injustices perpetrated on Australia's Indigenous community, and pledging to move forward with a shared future. Congress' generous response to this statement, among other messages, called upon the broader church to take up the mission of reconciliation.
The ongoing and continually renewing nature of the Covenant calls the Uniting Church to continually act to remove the systems and structures of discrimination and oppression in Australia.
While the origins of this church lie in Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom, its present and future lie very much with Asia and the Pacific. The Uniting Church declared itself to be a multicultural church in 1985, and now includes in its membership over 150 congregations of Asian and Pacific migrants. This means that along with other communities, members of the UCA worship in more than 35 different languages (including indigenous languages).
The UCA has formal partnership agreements with 32 churches in Asia and the Pacific, representing longstanding mission relationships and newer partnerships of solidarity and joint action.
The church's social justice advocacy work is a response to the Bible’s call to care for and protect the marginalised and vulnerable. Issues addressed include the environment, the rights and dignity of asylum seekers, the treatment and care of prisoners, inadequate gambling legislation, religious intolerance, multi- and cross-cultural issues, fair employment practices and much more. Church statements and Assembly decisions on justice issues can be found here.
Many Assemblies have discussed the issue of the ordination of gay and lesbian people, from an early decision that decided that sexual orientation was not a bar to ordination to the current situation where the Uniting Church accepts and supports the ministry of people in same-sex relationships.
The church also has been instrumental in pioneering interfaith relationships in Australia. Assembly and Assembly Standing Committee resolutions related to interfaith relations can be found here.
In the early 1990s the church moved to a consensus form of decision-making in the councils of the church, a system which has been adapted since by several other denominations and ecumenical bodies.
The Uniting Church is now the third largest Christian denomination in Australia, with around 243,000 members in around 2,500 congregations. As well as being well known for its justice and community services work, it manages a huge national network of community services, collectively called UnitingCare — the largest non-government provider of community services in Australia. Its agencies are found in every corner of the country and provide employment for over 70,000 Australians.
Synod Archives and Historical Society