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Homily by Rev. Dorothy McRae-McMahon

The Anniversary of
The Uniting Church In Australia
South Sydney Uniting Church
June 28, 2015

2 Corinthians 8: 7-15; Matthew 28:18-20

‘Called to be God’s Church’

This week is the 38 Anniversary of the Uniting Church in Australia. Most of you will know our background but I will just mention a few things for those people who have not been with us for long.

We are, of course, a union of the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches. Believe it, or not, it took us 51 years to negotiate our coming together! I was part of that negotiation during the last few years, so I know what it was like.

Each church brought its own particular strengths to the union, and its weaknesses, of course. If I had to describe the particular strengths, I would say that the strong focus of Congregationalism on its local congregations, giving them more freedom to govern themselves and to focus on local areas is one. The Presbyterians had a long history in good order (true Calvinists) and a commitment to scholarship. We Methodists in some ways were rather divided, although what we emphasised actually all came from our founder in John Wesley. We were evangelical, but also focussed on social justice and engagement with political issues being the church which founded both the Union Movement and the Labour Party.

So, we put all that together and it now lies embedded in the Uniting Church in Australia, expressed in the Basis of Union. On our logo, you will see an unfinished “U” which symbolises that there is still more Christian union to come, which is also why we named ourselves the Uniting, rather than United, Church.

We are the third largest church in Australia (after the Catholics and Anglicans) but we offer more into community support than any other church in care facilities, outback hospitals and general commitment to those in need.

At our inaugural Assembly in 1977, we made a statement which I will now read to you:

“People of the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches have united. A new church has been born.

We, who are members of the first Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia, address the people of Australia in this historic moment. The path to unity has been long and at times difficult, but we believe this unity is a sign of the reconciliation we seek for the whole human race.

We acknowledge with gratitude that the churches from which we have come have contributed in various ways to the life and development of this nation. A Christian responsibility to society has always been regarded as fundamental to the mission of the Church. In the Uniting Church our response to the Christian gospel will continue to involve us in social and national affairs.

We are conscious of our responsibilities within and beyond this country. We particularly acknowledge our responsibilities as one branch of the Christian church within the region of South-East Asia and the Pacific. In these contexts we make certain affirmations at the time of our inauguration.

We affirm our eagerness to uphold basic Christian values and principles, such as the importance of every human being, the need for integrity in public life, the proclamation of truth and justice, the rights for each citizen to participate in decision-making in the community, religious liberty and personal dignity, and a concern for the welfare of the whole human race.

We pledge ourselves to seek the correction of injustices wherever they occur. We will work for the eradication of poverty and racism within our society and beyond. We affirm the rights of all people to equal educational opportunities, adequate health care, freedom of speech, employment or dignity in unemployment if work is not available. We will oppose all forms of discrimination which infringe basic rights and freedoms.

We will challenge values which emphasise acquisitiveness and greed in disregard of the needs of others and which encourage a higher standard of living for the privileged in the face of the daily widening gap between the rich and poor.

We are concerned with the basic human rights of future generations and will urge the wise use of energy, the protection of the environment and the replenishment of the earth's resources for their use and enjoyment.

Finally we affirm that the first allegiance of Christians is God, under whose judgment the policies and actions of all nations must pass. We realise that sometimes this allegiance may bring us into conflict with the rulers of our day.

But our Uniting Church, as an institution within the nation, must constantly stress the universal values which must find expression in national policies if humanity is to survive.

We pledge ourselves to hope and work for a nation whose goals are not guided by self-interest alone, but by concern for the welfare of all persons everywhere the family of the One God the God made known in Jesus of Nazareth the One who gave His life for others.

In the spirit of His self-giving love we seek to go forward.”
The Congregational Church had been ordaining women for many decades and, for that reason, and because the other two churches were considering doing so at the time of the union, the Uniting Church included that in its constitution.

Later on, in 1997, we became the first church in Australia to accept and ordain openly gay and lesbian people.

In the early 1990’s we made a formal apology to our Indigenous people and handed over a tenth of our resources to them, including the building in Redfern which is now the Gadigal Media Centre.

Over the years our parishes have evolved their liturgical life some, like us, moving towards high church with a written responsive liturgy and the Eucharist every Sunday, and others staying more like the original churches.

The Bible reading at the Inauguration was the Gospel reading I have chosen today, alongside the Corinthians passage from the lectionary.

In both passages, we hear the call to the church, to the friends of Jesus Christ. We also hear of a God who understands our journeying and is with us as we go. In the Corinthians passage we can hear our calling, but it is not unreasonable. It recognises that some of us will begin with more to offer than others, for all sorts of reasons.

It paints a picture of a community of faith which shares what it has with each other and with those around it. One of the reasons which I love this church is that I believe that we really do that here.

We have our artists sharing their wonderful art works, our Library, some people volunteering to care for homeless people in our hall, our gardeners sharing what they grow and the eggs laid by our chooks, some people set up our morning tea and others, often do the washing up. One member often brings flowers for the Altar Table and another dresses the Table each week

Some do an incredible amount of work in preparing our paper (the South Sydney Herald) and numbers of others help with its planning and deliveries into the community. We have four people who play the piano for our services, one person usually collects the offering most Sundays and then some others count and bank it. Some people hand out the hymn books and liturgies and others care for our children. One member arranges our birthday celebrations and on we go . . . .

I know I am missing all sorts of gifts which we receive and we could all add to what I know. I haven’t mentioned our Minister, Rev. Andrew Collis, who never stops offering gifts.

I love the fact that we feel free to challenge and ask questions of each other and also our God we are not “pious” but are authentic as we journey together. If people need to cry, we just gently assure them we are near to them, rather than trying to stop them crying.

All these things mean that we are, I believe, a true community of faith, one to be celebrated and in which we will journey on together as we try to be God’s people.
After a time of quiet reflection, I invite you, if you wish, to come and place a flower before the Uniting Church logo in silence, or as you share something which you would want to celebrate about out church.

Rev. Dorothy McRae-McMahon