The Uniting Church is governed by a range of non-hierarchical and inter-related councils which each have responsibility for various functions or roles within the denomination. These begin at the local, or congregational level, and rise through regional (presbytery) and state (synod) bodies to the national council (assembly).
The membership and meeting schedule of each council is established by the constitution but importantly each council consists of both non-ordained (lay) and ordained members.
All offices of the church are available to lay and ordained men and women.
According to the church's foundational document, The Basis of Union, the Uniting Church "recognises that responsibility for government in the church belongs to the people of God by virtue of the gifts and tasks which God has laid upon them. The Uniting Church therefore so organises its life that locally, regionally and nationally government will be entrusted to representatives, men and women, bearing the gifts and graces with which God has endowed them for the building up of the Church".
The church acknowledges that Christ alone is supreme in his church, and that he may speak to it through any of its councils. Every council is therefore expected "to wait upon God's Word, and to obey God's will in the matters allocated to its oversight".
A congregation is best described as the local church which is the setting for regular weekly worship, normally on a Sunday morning. Some churches also offer worship services at other times and other days depending on their local needs.
Congregation meetings must be held twice a year to approve matters relating to the budget and local policy matters as well as staff appointments. Outside of such meetings a local church council takes responsibility for the day-to-day operation of the congregation and is responsible for approving the times of the worship services and other matters.
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.
Generally each synod comprises a number of presbyteries, or regional bodies, responsible for a group of congregations based on their geography. The Synod of Victoria and Tasmania is divided into eight presbyteries — Gippsland, Loddon Mallee, North Eastern Victoria, Port Phillip East, Port Phillip West, Tasmania, Western Victoria and Yarra Yarra.
At this level decisions are made with respect to the selection of candidates for ministry and the placement of ministers.
The six synods bring together representatives from the presbyteries under their control. The six synods are New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Australia, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria & Tasmania. They meet once every 18 months-two years, with the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania gathering every 18 months.
The General Secretary acts as the executive officer of each synod and provides general leadership as well as fulfilling a pastoral and advisory role.
The national assembly gathers every three years and is chaired by the president. The 13th assembly, in Adelaide in July 2012 was presided over by the new President, Reverend Professor Andrew Dutney. Stuart McMillan, currently the Moderator of the Darwin-based Northern Synod, is due to succeed Prof Dutney at the next Assembly in Perth, WA, in 2015.
The Assembly Standing Committee meets three times a year between Assembly meetings to conduct the business of assembly. Its 18 members are drawn from throughout Australia taking into account ordained and lay members, representatives from all states and territories and ensuring the voice of young members is also clearly heard.
The Basis of Union is the foundational document of the Uniting Church in Australia. The document is a statement of common belief approved by The Congregational Union of Australia (1973), The Methodist Church of Australasia (1974) and The Presbyterian Church of Australia (1974). Its 18 key headings provide the theological, governance and worship principles which the three predecessor churches agreed to in becoming the new Uniting Church in Australia in 1977.
The Basis of Union was revised in 1992 to use more inclusive language.
In announcing the revision, General Secretary of the Assembly, Rev Gregor Henderson described the Basis of Union as a visionary and inspiring document:
Its grounding in Jesus Christ "the risen crucified One", its commitment to the mission and unity of the whole church, its portrayal of church order and of the ministry of every church member, and its conviction that the living Lord Jesus Christ leads the church on its pilgrim way, make it a rich document which will nourish and guide the Uniting Church for the duration of its life.
The Basis of Union is available in five other languages — Fijian, Indonesian, Korean, Samoan and Tongan.
(Based on a statement from the inaugural worship service of the Uniting Church in Australia June 1977.)
The role of moderator is broad and far-reaching and includes giving pastoral leadership and encouragement to the synod. It is an elected role usually for a three-year term. The moderator chairs the Synod meetings, speaks on public issues, visits congregations, agencies and schools and represents the Church on public occasions.
Synod meets every 18 months and comprises about 400 ministers and lay people drawn from across Victoria and Tasmania.
There are three prongs to the moderator's position and up to ten clauses in the regulations.
Chairing meetings: Synod, Standing Committee, Reception of Ministers and others on request.
Visiting Congregations: A moderator must travel far and wide across the synod so they have an accurate picture as to what is happening in the Uniting Church, and offering pastoral and spiritual leadership.
Making sure all processes are fair: Anyone can come and see the moderator if they have a concern about how things are going in the church
Representing the church in the media: The moderator is the official spokesperson for the church, and comments on many current issues reflecting the decisions, values and views of the Uniting Church. The Uniting Church has around 60,000 members in Victoria and Tasmania, and employs around 1000 staff including ministers, youth workers and many other people.
The current moderator is Rev Sharon Hollis.
The General Secretary acts as the executive officer of the synod and provides general leadership as well as fulfilling a pastoral and advisory role.
The incumbent also:
The current general secretary is Rev Dr Mark Lawrence.