The first to jump

It’s the 37th anniversary of the birth of the Uniting Church in Australia. If you haven’t done so yet, please watch this video by our President, Rev. Dr Andrew Dutney:


Here is a brief sermon I’m preaching this evening:

Hebrews 13.1–8
John 17.20–26


The first to jump


Today is the 37th anniversary of the Uniting Church. Happy birthday to us!

I’ve been around the traps for a while, and I remember in the early years of the Church’s life that people used to say The Uniting Church has no identity. Who are we as the Uniting Church? I don’t hear that so often anymore. I wonder why that is. Maybe we have an identity, or maybe those who kept asking have given up.

So let me ask, What do you think the Uniting Church’s identity is? Who are we?

You could perhaps mention

  • our Church’s breadth and inclusiveness;
  • its strong stance on social justice;
  • the way women are not discouraged from ministry (though many women  still find this a difficult road).

Is there anything else?

Let me answer my own question with a confession: I used to regularly look at the church advertisements in the Sunshine Coast Daily. They could be both amusing and desperately cringeworthy. But I always liked what the Uniting Church did with their advert.

The various congregations shared the advert, and their motto was ‘Part of the Body of Christ’.

Part of the Body of Christ. I really like that.

I think this is one good way to state our identity. The Uniting Church is part of Christ’s body. We don’t claim to be the whole thing, we don’t even claim to be the best bit. We are part of the body, making our contribution to the health of the whole Body of Christ.

And I think the best contribution we make is this: we do things first.

You know, when a bunch of kids get together, there’s always one who gets the ball rolling. One who takes the first jump into the river from the high riverbank, or who is first to climb up to the highest tree branch. The Uniting Church is that kid.

What gift does that kid bring to her group, the kid who’s always first to do something? She shows others that it’s safe to jump, or climb.

Or, she shows them the trouble you get into when you do. And perhaps the other kids can then jump safely.

Leaders of other churches have said they like us because of that. I wonder why that is?

Because we do difficult things first, we show them if it’s safe. Or not. When the first member of the group jumps in the water, you find out if it’s too cold. Or too shallow. Or if there’s a submerged rock. Or if in fact it’s ok.

If you want an example, all you have to do is look at the Uniting Church’s discussions on homosexual people and ministry. We had an interesting time throwing that one around. It wasn’t an easy time for this congregation, with people on one side or another or on no side, just wanting it all to go away.

During all this, I was interested to hear that leaders of other churches, including quite conservative churches, were thankful to us for doing this. Why? Because they know they’ll have to go through it themselves one day. We aren’t ‘the gay church’. GLBTI people everywhere have found a voice, and are making themselves heard. And when they are people of faith, Christian people, they want their churches to respond to them.

Among the mainstream churches, we have responded first. But the others will also need to listen one day.

You know, the Uniting Church doesn’t always do everything perfectly. Sometime, we don’t do things well, and we’ve also been known to fail. But when we do badly, I’m convinced that it’s not because we’ve tried to do things too early; it’s rather because we’ve lost our nerve.

Let’s not lose our nerve.

We are part of the Body of Christ. We aren’t the best at everything, but we have our part to play. Doing things first isn’t the only thing we do, but it’s an important gift to the rest of the Christian Church.

I celebrate that gift, and other gifts the Uniting Church brings to this country. I am glad to be a part of this part of the Body of Christ.




Filed under Church & world, sermon, Uniting Church in Australia

4 responses to “The first to jump

  1. Paul, I like your approach re “we do things first”.

    Another thought I’ve had since reading this is that, in cricketing terms, the UCA is an “all-rounder”. We do a bit of almost everything reasonably well.

    We don’t do traditional worship as well as the Anglicans, but we do it reasonably well.

    We don’t do contemporary worship as well as the Pentecostals, but we do it reasonably well.

    We don’t do spirituality as well as the RCs, but we do it reasonably well.

    We don’t do social justice as well as the Quakers, but we do it reasonably well.


  2. I like that Bob, though if I’d been thinking of a cricketing analogy I think I’d have gone for opening bat. But I really like your “We don’t do … as well as …, but we do it reasonably well.”

  3. Sharon Hollis

    Paul, a fabulous reflection. I like that you claim what we do well while acknowledging that we are only a small part of what God is doing with the church.

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