Tag Archives: Basis of Union

UCA Anniversary (24 June 2012)

The Uniting Church celebrated 35 years last Thursday, 22 June. Here is a reflection:

A Basis for a direction

Ephesians 2.19-22
John 17.1-11

On Saturday 22 June 1977, I was walking along the beach at Caloundra with some friends. Our spirits were buoyed up by the creation of the Uniting Church in Australia that very day.

I wasn’t part of the Uniting Church back then. I wasn’t a Methodist or a Presbyterian. I wasn’t a Congregationalist. I was looking in from the outside and it was all very inspiring to me.

It wasn’t long before I was reading the Basis of Union, the document that the three churches who came into union agreed to. It excited me. (If you don’t think the Basis of Union could excite anyone, may I suggest you take the time to actually read it?)

Since 1977, the Uniting Church has become a source of joy and pain to me and to many. How could it be any other way? If you love something or someone, if you open your heart to them, you become vulnerable. I certainly feel ‘vulnerable’ to the Uniting Church.

Sometimes, though, I can’t quite identify with the ‘pain’ some other people talk about. For example: people have accused the Uniting Church of failing to stand for anything. I joined because the Uniting Church stood for active Christian unity, because it cared about the place of women in the Church and because it was passionate about justice.

But still there are those who have said our Church has no real identity. Sorry, but if a passion for unity and justice aren’t an identity, I don’t know what is.

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Jonah, the reluctant prophet (Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, 22 January 2012)

Jonah, the reluctant prophet

Jonah 3.1-5, 10
Mark 1.14-20

Do you have a favourite book of the Bible? I do. It’s the Book of Jonah.

So I want to talk about Jonah, the most reluctant prophet ever. The Book of Jonah is only four chapters long, and only forty eight verses. Read it when you get home—it’s far more than a story about a prophet who had a whale of a time. No, the Book of Jonah is a great satire on those who can’t keep up with God; specifically, God’s superabundant willingness to forgive and heal people.

I don’t mind saying that the first time I read it in one sitting I found it to be hilarious. I laughed out loud. Don’t worry if you do too—it is meant to be funny!

The story begins with the word of God to Jonah:

Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.

Seems straightforward enough. God wants Jonah to go to Nineveh, which was situated on the edge of modern-day Mosul, the second-largest city of Iraq and the site of much of the fighting in that unfortunate country. Jonah was to cry out against Nineveh because of its wickedness.

What problem could Jonah have with that? The most obvious objection he might have had was that Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the superpower of the time. And Assyria was the enemy of Israel. Perhaps we might assume that Jonah thought he may be killed by his enemies?

Nice try, but Jonah’s real problem was somewhere else. We’ll come to it soon.

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Filed under church year, humour, RCL, sermon, Uniting Church in Australia

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C: 22 August 2010)

Living God’s Mission

Jeremiah 1.4-10
Luke 13.10-17

We’ve heard a fair bit the last couple of weeks about the Church being here not for the benefit of its members, but for the benefit of those outside. And we’ve said that the Church is here to benefit us in one way: that is to meet our truest need, the need to become disciples of Jesus, the need we have to be made more like him.

I’ve been asked, ‘What about the abundant life that Jesus promises? Isn’t the Church here to help deliver that?’ And I’m very glad indeed to get questions like that, because they help me to shape what I need to say.

Jesus does promise us abundant life. So shouldn’t the Church be there to give us that abundant life? No. And yes.

No, because the Church isn’t there to give us the abundant life directly. The Church is there to form us as disciples. But: the abundant life comes to us as we commit ourselves to Jesus as his disciples. Look at the woman in today’s Gospel story. She was bent over. Perhaps we are too. She stood straight when Jesus laid his hands on her. She was healed—and like her, we are not truly healed unless we give ourselves to Jesus in love and trust.

Look at Jeremiah: he gains confidence in God as he allows the word of the Lord to enter his very being:

Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you.

Remember, our vision statement is

Living God’s mission
as disciples of Jesus
united in the Spirit

Being disciples is central! But never forget that first line: We are on about ‘living God’s mission’.

We don’t have a mission. God has a mission, and God invites us to join him in that mission. God’s mission is about setting people free (including us). God’s mission is about bringing purpose into people’s lives (including ours). God’s mission is about creating peace and harmony among people (including among us). God’s mission is about preserving the earth (so that all people can live and thrive, including us).

God’s mission is big. Seriously big. It’s bigger than the Church. It includes the whole creation. The Basis of Union of the Uniting Church says that God’s mission concerns the

coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation.

God’s mission is so big, it includes people of good will all over the place. Some of them don’t know they’re sharing in God’s mission. Some of them don’t even believe in the God with whom they are cooperating.

But notice: we are living God’s mission. God’s mission brings life. And when we are on about God’s mission, we bring life to people. Including to ourselves.

Sometimes, that life comes in the midst of death. Life is a bummer. Things are not going right; in fact, they are just wrong. But God is there, with abundant warmth and acceptance and compassionate love. Sometimes, that’s all we can know of the abundant life; but it’s there in abundance for those who live God’s mission.

Do you want the abundant life? Then see how you can share in God’s mission—through the congregation, and in your daily life. You’ll find the abundant life that Jesus promises through obedience to God.

So the Church isn’t here to give us that abundant life. It’s here to make us disciples. But: disciples are sharing in God’s mission, and that gives them the abundant life.

So the Church is here to bring that abundant life after all!… But the abundant life is a ‘side effect’ of sharing in what God is doing. If we seek the abundant life without sharing in God’s mission, without living God’s mission, then we’ll only have a counterfeit kind of so-called ‘abundant’ life. That counterfeit life will go once real difficulties come our way. That counterfeit life will go sour one day, and we’ll wonder where the joy and the peace went.

Living God’s mission. That’s the way to the abundant life that Jesus promises. It’s the way to true inner peace and joy and freedom.


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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

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