A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
Taking a Stand Down Under
The UCA stands for the Uniting Church In Australia. The UCA came into existence on the 22 June 1977 and was formed through the joining together of the Congregational, Presbyterian and Methodist Churches of Australia. The founding document was called the Basis Of Union. This year we are celebrating our 30th birthday, so this denomination is so very young and our youthfulness has meant that we have at times lost our way as we grow up.
The last and most profound time was the occasion of the 10th Assembly in 2003 when a proposal called ”Membership, Ministry and Sexuality” was before the Assembly. This infant Church was struggling with issues that were already shaking the foundations of many of the established Denominations around the world who have been in existence for hundreds and hundreds of years. For the Assembly the issue was focused on the matter of ordaining or otherwise homosexuals and lesbians within the UCA. The Assembly did not accept that responsibility but voted to pass it back to the Presbyteries, as they were the body within the UCA who were responsible for the ordaining and placement of Ministers of the Word. This resolution has become known as R84.
Not only this but although the Basis Of Union clearly states matters that are vital to the on-going life of the UCA must be referred back to the Presbyteries and congregations for consideration the Assembly decided in its wisdom not to do this. Their justification for making this decision was that “Nothing has changed”. As things have turned out great changes have taken place. First a group called Evangelical Members of the UCA and then Reforming Alliance were formed. The date of the inaugural meeting was 14th October last year when the Assembly Of Confessing Congregations within the UCA was promulgated. Although the UCA Assembly have refused to acknowledge the existence of these congregations yet they do exist, as does the new Assembly. They have become the Evangelical Confessing voice within the UCA in Australia.
Membership of the ACC comes in three categories. The vast numbers are members of ACC through their congregations and not by individual names. At present there are over 125 ACC Congregations scattered around Australia and the number is growing. In other ACC congregations not only has the congregation joined but individual members have joined also. Some of these ACC congregations have been fortunate to have a minister who is a member of the ACC. There are two such in Tasmania. Others have refused to call a minister recommended by the Presbytery and have found ways and means of conducting worship through using Lay Preachers who are members of the ACC. Then there are a large number who still attend UCA worship but hold individual membership through Groups such as our own. Lastly there are those who hold membership and are not connected with ACC congregations or Groups because of isolation. Because of this membership system it is very difficult to estimate how many members by name there are. I would guess that the number could be between six to seven thousand.
Besides this there have been varying numbers quoted of UCA folk who have left altogether the UCA and are now worshipping with other denominations because they do not want themselves or their children to be ministered to by a homosexual minister. This number is in the thousands. Included are two of my own sons and their families. The ACC National Council has sought to build up a relationship with the UCA Assembly and its Standing Committee where differences could be aired and steps taken for the ACC to be recognised by the UCA but all efforts have come to nought.
There is a lot more I could say about the UCA and ACC but we will leave it there. By the way it was with interest that I read articles written in your Headway magazine from past and present Presidents of the Methodist Church in England. MET seems very much integrated and recognised. At present it seems to me that it will be a long time before we will see such happening in Australia.
We rejoice in being connected with the Confessing Congregations around the world. I believe the ACC within the UCA needs to be in for the long haul as we continually seek God the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit for guidance to become the Reforming Confessing voice within the UCA. I believe personally that there is hope that the UCA will ultimately, given time, accept us for what we believe in and stand for. We cherish your prayers.
The ACC Southern Tasmanian GroupL~
When R84 was passed I was 77 years old and had been retired for fifteen odd years from active ministry in the UCA. I remember saying to my wife Miriam that R84 was sad but I was not going to become embroiled again in the politics of the Church. But as time went by I began to receive phone calls from folk to whom I had ministered over the years. Time and again it was being said that they were being sidelined and ignored by their minister and members of their congregation with whom they had worshipped for many years because of their opposition to R84. They sounded to me like sheep without a shepherd or a sheepfold. What they were thirsting for was to be reassured that they had made the right decision. They need reassurance, and a sense of belonging and being needed within the Body of Christ. Ultimately I felt the call of God to do something about it. This call was as strong as my first call in 1959 when I offered myself for training as a Minister of the Word in the Methodist Church. I realised from the beginning that most of all these very loyal folk needed to feel that they belonged together as members of the Body of Christ, and that their first allegiance was to Christ and not to the structures of the UCA that has lost its way. The best way that could be expressed was through worship.
Our first Gathering was at Woodbridge, my home congregation. Over three quarters of the congregation are members of the ACC. We were fortunate that two of our musicians were ACC members and lead morning worship at Woodbridge with song most Sundays. They were willing to lead our afternoon worship with bright and joyful singing. By the way I refused to call it a “meeting”. It is a Gathering of like-minded but hurting Christians.
About twenty of us met on a Sunday afternoon and the time was predominately taken up with reading the scriptures, praying and singing together. The final time was used in passing on information about what was happening in the RA and EMU movements around Australia. From then on we have met regularly in the Wesley Church in Hobart because it is more central. It warms my heart that the Wesley folk have never charged us for the use of their premises. Thirty three members of the Group joined the ACC as individual members. We gather every second month. It is hoped that the regularity of our Gatherings will increase in time. You must realise that these folk first attend worship where they hold their membership of a Sunday morning and then come to Wesley for the ACC Gathering of a Sunday afternoon. The Group is made up of members from 6 congregations scattered around the Hobart area and the Houn. They are now feeling themselves as belonging to a congregation of the ACC and I am trying to fill the role of a Minister of the Word for them and we celebrate the Lords Supper together. One of our members is the convener of one of the Presbytery committees.
In all of this the ACC National Council and their staff have wonderfully supported us. We have had regular visits by the key people with their words of encouragement and direction. We are not yet 12 months old and are feeling our way. What a wonder the email is. When I think of the email system I can never doubt that God can hear and answer all our prayers all over the world.
At the last Gathering I put before the folk the possibility that we have been together long enough to begin to plan our future. We can no longer meet just for meeting’s sake. We need to reach out to others who are hurting in the UCA. The time is coming when we will be forced to consider where our loyalties lie concerning our commitment of time and money. All these matters are in God’s hands and I am sure He has a way forward for us and the Uniting Church.