One of our defining qualities in the Uniting Church is that we are very ecumenical. Our commitment was in evidence at the recent 14th Assembly when more than 30 ecumenical guests joined us from partner churches in Asia, the Pacific and Africa and from other churches in Australia in our week of prayerful discernment. There was a special dinner on the Wednesday night for ecumenical guests. On the Thursday night, Rev Dr Lin Manhong, Dean of Nanjing Union Theological Seminary and the China Christian Council gave this year’s Cato lecture on the nature and growth of the church in China.
There was much more too. The Assembly considered and endorsed an Anglican-Uniting Church statement, ‘Weaving a New Cloth‘ giving guidelines for local church partnering. It also discussed and endorsed the World Council of Church’s (WCC) convergence text The Church: Towards a Common Vision. There was an act of ecumenical solidarity through the formal recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
Why is the Uniting Church (UCA) so interested in relating to other churches? The explanation is in Paragraph Two of the Basis of Union, in which we recognise that we are ‘related to other churches in ways which give expression, however partially to the unity and faith in mission’ of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Further, that ‘Christians in Australia are called to bear witness to a unity of faith and life in Christ which transcends cultural and economic, national and racial boundaries’. These are powerful words indeed.
Our church’s energy in ecumenical relationships today continues in the spirit of the Basis of Union – extending across Australia and beyond – at home through the National Council of Churches in Australia and internationally in bodies like the World Council of Churches, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the World Methodist Council, the Christian Conference of Asia and the Pacific Conference of Churches.
We are very well served by many (often unsung) people who participate in national and international bodies and conferences as representatives of our Church. So I’d like to share a few ecumenical highlights Uniting Church people have been involved in over the past couple of years.
Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC)
In March 2013 six Uniting Church people attended, including Rev Rronang Garrawurra of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) who made a very positive impression on the gathering. At that meeting, the Uniting Church became the first Australian Church admitted to the PCC in the post-colonial era. UnitingWorld takes the lead in managing this important relationship through Church Partnerships Manager for the Pacific, Rev Sef Carroll.
World Council of Churches (WCC)
The 10th WCC Assembly was held in in Busan, South Korea in October 2013. This inspiring gathering only happens once in seven years. Former President, Rev Gregor Henderson, assisted with the consensus decision making procedures. Emily Evans, our UCA youth representative, was elected to the WCC Central Committee. The Assembly theme was ‘The Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace’ which member churches are being encouraged to be involved with. This was something I discussed with fellow WCC Ecumenical Officers in Geneva earlier this year.
Ongoing WCC Work
As well as being on the WCC Central Committee, Emily Evans also attended a WCC gender conference in Cyprus in November 2014. Rev Elenie Poulos is a continuing member of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. Rev Dr Morag Logan, the convenor of the Assembly’s Christian Unity Working Group, is a vice-moderator of the WCC Commission on Faith and Order.
United and Uniting Churches Continuation Committee
Rev Charity Majiza has been a member of this committee since the previous international consultation was held in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2008. The committee met in Utrecht in the Netherlands in September 2014 hosted by the Protestant Church of the Netherlands (PCN). Among other things members discussed the visibility and contribution the United and Uniting Churches can make in the WCC and in Christian World Communions. The next international consultation will be held in Chennai, India in December 2015 to be hosted by the Church of South India. General Secretary, Rev Terence Corkin, will attend and make a presentation.
The Global Christian Forum
The Global Christian Forum is an important new ecumenical development initiated by the WCC with Roman Catholic, Evangelical and Pentecostal communities. The Forum has two major projects: a global conversation on ‘Discrimination, Persecution and Martyrdom’ and ‘Call to Mission, Perceptions of Proselytism.’ Rev Dr Robert Gribben has been connected with the Global Christian Forum through his involvement as a Uniting Church person on the World Methodist Council.
World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC)
Dr Robyn Goodwin is an advisor to the Executive Committee of the WCRC. In 2014, Rev Denise Liersch attended two conferences of the WCRC in the USA, the first on the meaning of confessional documents in the life of the church and the second on the meaning of communion. The next WCRC Assembly will be held in Leipzig, Germany 29 June-7 July 2017.
World Methodist Council (WMC)
The UCA has two people in key roles. Rev Dr Robert Gribben chairs the WMC Ecumenical Relations Committee. The Committee recently finalised an important report of the Anglican-Methodist dialogue, ‘Into All the World,’ which was launched in Ireland in March 2015. Ms Anne Connan is president of the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women. WMC General Secretary Bishop Ivan Abrahams came to Sydney in February 2013 to present the World Methodist Peace Award to Ms Joy Balazo for her work through UnitingWorld. The next World Methodist Council and Conference will be held in Houston, Texas in September 2016.
Christian Conference of Asia (CCA)
Assembly general secretary, Rev Terence Corkin, is a member of the CCA Executive Committee and has been very active in working with the CCA on amendments to its Constitution. Tess Keam attended a consultation on ‘Moving Beyond Conflict: Ensuring Human Dignity and Security’ in October 2014 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Bridget Ocean attended the 5th Asian Conference of Theology Students in October 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The theme was the important document, produced jointly by the WCC, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the World Evangelical Alliance, “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World.” The CCA Assembly meets once every five years was held in May 2015 in Jakarta, Indonesia with the theme “Living Together in the Household of God”. Five Uniting Church representatives attended including Sally Andrews as the youth representative.
Dialogues and Events
There is plenty happening at home in Australia too with continuing dialogues with the Lutheran, Catholic and Salvation Army Churches. For more details check the Christian Unity section of the Assembly website.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which Australian churches mark around the third week of May, continues to be an opportunity for local congregations to share and affirm the intention to work and pray together in unity.
There’s a lot going on so if you’re interested in getting involved, please do let me know.
Rev Dr Chris Walker, national consultant, Christian Unity, Doctrine and Worship
Image: Representatives from international partner churches of the Uniting Church in Australia, 2015.