Monthly Archives: July 2010

Synopsis: Presbyteral Services of Ordination, 1977-1995: The Uniting Church in Australia ‘within the faith and unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’

In Genesis 18, Abraham haggles with God with the result that if there were ten righteous people in Sodom, it would be spared. When I mused about putting the synopsis of my PhD thesis on the blog I had decided that if there were not ten but one who asked I’d do it. Thanks, Nicole!

This thesis examines whether the presbyteral ordination rite of the Uniting Church conforms to acceptable ecumenical practice in the western Christian tradition and thereby supports the claim that its presbyters are ordained as ministers in the Church catholic. It looks at the period 1977-1995, a particularly active time for the Commission on Liturgy in the writing of services of ordination. Appendix C outlines developments since that time.

The Uniting Church in Australia, formed from the union of Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches in 1977, declares that it ‘lives and works within the faith and unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’ (Basis of Union, para. 2; the Basis is the Uniting Church’s foundational document).

One consequence of this declaration is its claim to ordain its ministers of the Word (presbyters) as ministers in the Church catholic. This thesis examines whether the course that the Uniting Church has taken in its liturgical practices of ordination of ministers of the Word has been consistent with its own assertions; or whether, while still continuing to make the same claims, the Uniting Church has paid insufficient attention to the witness of the Church catholic.

The Uniting Church was formed as a Church that found the Faith in the sources received from the Church catholic—in Christ the Word, in the scriptures, in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, and in its foundational documents from the Protestant Reformation and the Wesleyan revival. Consistent with this, the members of the Joint Commission on Church Union sought to establish a ministry accepted by all, with a threefold ordering of bishops, presbyters and deacons. This goal proved elusive. The full working out of this vision involved a proposed Concordat with the Church of South India. That Church would be invited to send bishops to ordain bishops in the Uniting Church, so that the sign of apostolic succession would be both given and received by the new Church. The Joint Committee on Church Union was unable to agree on this proposal, and so it was stillborn.

The Joint Committee could then have aimed lower, for a form of ordained ministry that was more narrowly-rooted in the traditions stemming from the Reformation and the Wesleyan revival. However, the ordination rite of the Uniting Church from 1977 onwards has seen ordination as conferred in the name of Christ through the authority of the presbytery ‘by prayer and the laying on of hands in the presence of a worshipping congregation’, as mandated by the Basis of Union (para. 14(a)). It has also located ordination within the context of the eucharist; neither practice was inevitable, given that neither is practised by all Reformed churches.

In examining the question of whether the presbyteral ordination rite of the Uniting Church in the period 1977-1995 supports the claim that its presbyters are ordained as ministers in the Church of God, attention has been paid to the framework of James Puglisi. Puglisi’s schema of the process of admission to ordained ministry provides a lingua franca for this process from different traditions, and the thesis will show that the various revisions of the Uniting Church’s rite of ordination follow this framework.

The principle of lex orandi, lex credendi is worked out in the Uniting Church predominantly by the conforming of liturgy to doctrinal statement. In the 1992 service this relationship of doctrine and liturgy was stretched almost to breaking point, though the Commission on Liturgy sought to mitigate the effects of the decision of the Sixth Assembly in 1991 (summarised as ‘one ordination, two accreditations’) that marked a distancing from the practice of the Church catholic. The Uniting Church’s commitment to having as ecumenically recognisable a ministry as possible is shown in the correction of this anomaly at the very first opportunity, at the Seventh Assembly in 1994. As part of the background to the analysis of the Uniting Church’s claims to the ordination of its presbyters as part of the Church catholic, the forms that ministry took in the New Testament and early Church period are sketched, along with a discussion of ministry in various streams of the Protestant Reformation. Liturgies from the Apostolic Tradition attributed to Hippolytus, dating from perhaps the third-century, through the Reformation to the present day are also examined, particularly those that influenced the writing of Uniting Church liturgies.

The various versions of the Uniting Church rite of ordination are commented upon, interspersed with a discussion of the debate that was occurring at the time in the Uniting Church Assembly, and—in the case of Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry—ecumenically.

The Basis of Union clearly states ‘the Presbytery will ordain by prayer and the laying on of hands in the presence of a worshipping congregation’ (para. 14(a)), and leaves room open for a renewal of the diaconate (para. 14(c)) and for an episcopal office (para. 16). The diaconate was renewed by the Sixth Assembly in 1991, which was implemented in an idiosyncratic way, by ordaining to ‘ministry in Christ’s church’ and then ‘accrediting’ to the ministry of the Word or the diaconate. Had this form of commissioning for ministry become entrenched in the Uniting Church, this thesis argues that the Uniting Church would not be able to sustain the claim that it ordained ministers of the Word into the ministry of the Church catholic. However, the Seventh Assembly in 1994 overturned this decision, and re-established the ministry of the Word as a separate ordination.

This thesis concludes that because the form of the rite conforms to acceptable ecumenical practice in the western Christian tradition, and because the decision of the Seventh Assembly in 1994 enabled a restoration of ordination by prayer and the imposition of hands, the Uniting Church can indeed make the claim that it ordains its ministers of the Word as ministers of the Church catholic.

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Filed under ministry, Ordination, Personal, Uniting Church in Australia, Working Group on Worship

A Litany for use during an election campaign

A member of my congregation has made me aware of this excellent litany, produced by the Liturgical Commission of the Anglican Church of Australia. I believe it deserves a wider use:

Lord of every time and place, God of integrity and truth,
we pray for wisdom as we prepare to vote in the Federal election.

Let us give thanks to God, saying, ‘we thank you, Lord’.

For this land and the diversity of its peoples,
we thank you, Lord.

For all who work for peace and justice in this land,
we thank you, Lord.

For leaders who serve the common good,
we thank you, Lord.

For robust democracy and freedom to participate in public life,
we thank you, Lord.

For media scrutiny and open debate,
we thank you, Lord.

Let us pray to the Lord, saying, ‘Hear us, good Lord’.

Bless those who administer the electoral process,
that they may uphold fairness, honesty and truth.
Hear us, good Lord.

Impart your wisdom to all who propose policy,
that their promises may serve those in greatest need.
Hear us, good Lord.

Give integrity to party leaders, candidates and campaign workers,
and keep them from deceit and corruption.
Hear us, good Lord.

Protect all engaged in public life, with their families, friends and colleagues,
that nothing may demean or do them harm.
Hear us, good Lord.

Direct those who influence opinion through the media,
that we may listen, speak and vote with sound minds.
Hear us, good Lord.

The Litany concludes with one or both of these prayers:

Lord of every time and place, God beyond our dreaming,
we pray for wisdom as we prepare to vote in the Federal election.
Give us a Parliament committed to the priorities of your kingdom,
so that peace, compassion, truth and justice may prevail among us,
and make us a blessing to all peoples, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

God, bless Australia,
guard our people
guide our leaders
and give us peace;
for Jesus Christ’’s sake.  Amen.

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Filed under Church & world, Ecumenical, Liturgy, Prayer

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 25 July 2010

Rooted in Christ

Colossians 2.6-19
Luke 11.1-13

I remember when I was a first year medical student. It was back when crinoline dresses were all the fashion and horseless carriages had just begun to make an appearance. I was at a meeting of the Christian cell group in our year, and another student spoke of some research he’d come across. It was that most of us in that group, most of us—who were keen enough to spend a lunch hour studying the bible (ok, and looking at the girls…)—most of us would have stopped being part of the life of the church by the time we were thirty. Thirty seemed a long way off at eighteen, but it was a frightening thought nonetheless.

Ironically, the lad who quoted that research had stopped attending church by the time he was thirty.

There may be all sorts of reasons why people drop out of church. Some of them make sense. Congregations can be dysfunctional. I think though that many people leave because they haven’t allowed Paul’s words in Colossians 2.6-7 to dwell deeply in their hearts:

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Today I want to look at some of these words, and put alongside them Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Luke 11. Continue reading

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Filed under church year, Prayer, RCL, sermon, spiritual practices


Last night was my graduation from Griffith University as a PhD—a lot of fun, even though I spent half the morning with a case of the vomits. (Too much information? Ok, no more then…)

The thesis was titled, Presbyteral Rites of Ordination, 1977-1995: The Uniting Church in Australia ‘within the faith and unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’. I’m tossing up putting the synopsis up on the blog, if there”s any interest. For now, a pic of me with my wonderful wife:


Filed under Personal, Uniting Church in Australia

One last post for the World Cup…

…from someone who just can’t get interested in that bike race.

Hitler again, after Germany’s loss to Spain: ‘Maybe if I was on the team I could make a difference… they used to call me the Kaka of Germany!’

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I know the World Cup’s finished, but…

…this is very good!

From the viral Downfall scene that has been overdubbed hilariously many times:

Hitler on Vuvuzelas—”Do you know what 30000 vuvuzelas sound like on a seven speaker surround sound system?”

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16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 18 July 2010

Broken to be a blessing

Colossians 1.15-28

Sometimes, you read a verse of scripture and you think, Whaaat? What on earth could that mean? There was one of those verses in today’s reading from Colossians chapter 1. It’s verse 24; perhaps it made you wonder too. Let’s hear it again. St Paul says:

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

Paul actually says, ‘in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions…’

Hang on, I thought, the first time I read that years ago. Didn’t Jesus die for the whole world on the cross? Didn’t he bear our sins on the cross? Wasn’t it a ‘perfect sacrifice’ for sin? How could there be anything ‘lacking in his afflictions’? Has Paul gone nuts? Perhaps he has! Read a few verses earlier, and you’ll see that Paul says this:

through [Christ] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Here, Paul says that on the cross God reconciled all things everywhere to himself through Jesus. Because of Jesus, we are at peace with God. We’re not partly at peace, we’re not half-reconciled to God. We are wholly at peace with God, we are fully reconciled, we are God’s beloved sons and daughters, we have a place in God’s loving heart. We are fully alive, and why? Because we been drawn into the grace-full, eternal, loving dance of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Notice that all these things are true whether or not we feel them to be true. So what on earth could possibly be ‘“lacking” in Christ’s afflictions’?

Let’s hold that question, while we look at something we’ll be doing soon.
Continue reading

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Filed under church year, RCL, sermon

Conference time…

While far more important things are happening in the world (like Spain meeting The Netherlands in the World Cup Final), I am going south for a couple of conferences.

The first is in Melbourne, starting tomorrow night and going till Sunday. It is called Engaging the Basis, and aims to “provide an opportunity for scholarly discussion, debate and exchange of ideas about the theological responsibilities of the UCA and the particular theological commitments of the Basis of Union“.

Then, with friends Michelle Cook and Geoff Thompson, I’m stopping off in Sydney on the way back for a second conference on Monday and Tuesday: Sarah Coakley and the Future of Systematic Theology. She is an Anglican priest who teaches theology at Harvard. I’m prepared to have my mind stretched at this one…

Back on Wednesday!


Filed under Personal, Uniting Church in Australia

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 4 July 2010

Bear one another’s burdens: Ubuntu

Galatians 6.1-16
John 8.2-11

A couple of weeks ago, I reminded you that I’m from Yorkshire. I’m happy that my birthplace was in Yorkshire; it means that I’d achieved something as soon as I was born!

It can be a hard place, Yorkshire. People sometimes wrongly say that Scottish people are mean. Well, it’s been said that the difference between a Yorkshireman and a Scotsman is this: A Yorkshireman is a Scotsman wi’ generosity sooooked out of ’im. And there’s a saying that Yorkshire folk are famous for:

’ear all, see all, say nowt;
tak’ all, keep all, gie nowt;
eat all, sup all, pay nowt;
an’ if th’ivver do owt fer nowt,
do i’ fo’ thisseln

Hear everything, see everything, say nothing;
take everything, keep everything, give nothing;
eat everything, drink everything, pay nothing;
and if you ever do anything for nothing,
do it for yourself.

But you know, anyone who were to live by that motto would be making a mistake.

Perhaps another piece of English wisdom is better: it’s from the poet John Donne, who eventually became the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. In 1624 Donne wrote,

No man is an island, entire of itself…
Any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind;
and therefore never send to know
for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.

John Donne got it right; others have got it right, too. I’ve been reading something of Desmond Tutu lately. He speaks of the interdependence of all people using an African word, ubuntu. I want to spend a few minutes on what he says later; some of it may be familiar to those of you from Africa, particularly southern Africa.

So, according to John Donne and Desmond Tutu, we are all interconnected; therefore, next time you do something for nothing, do it for someone else.

Continue reading


Filed under church year, RCL, sermon, ubuntu, Yorkshire