On Monday 22 July, staff began Term 3 with a presentation from Rev Professor Andrew Dutney, Principal of the Uniting Church’s training college and national Past President of the church. Andrew’s thoughtful presentation was titled, “Another orientation to the Uniting Church in Australia”. This chaplain’s piece borrows heavily from that talk.
As a leader in knowledge of the wider church of which Westminster is a part, Andrew pointed out that, whilst church attendance generally in Australia has experienced significant decline during years since the school began, the Uniting Church is still a significant enough presence in the Australian community to matter – “a bit”. The Uniting Church still has nearly a million adherents, over 100,000 weekly attenders, and more than 2000 local congregations spread right across our vast continent. That’s more Australian outlets than McDonalds! There are forty-eight schools affiliated with the Uniting Church, with 50,000 students. The extensive network of community service organisations associated with the Uniting Church operate out of 1600 locations, involve 30,000 volunteers and have 40,000 employees.
In its 42 year history since the former Methodist, Congregational and Presbyterian church came together in 1977, the Uniting Church, like other mainline Protestant denominations, has become a much looser association of people and communities with ‘a diversity of views on virtually any topic’ - from liturgy and theology, to ethics and the public good, and ranging from deeply conservative to outlandishly ‘progressive’.
We as a school fit within this wider picture. Somewhere evident within our shared life should be a reflection of such hopes: as Andrew described to staff, “a community of reconciliation seeking the end goal of ‘all things coming together’ in service of God. We are all called to play a part in a journey. The Uniting Church has always understood itself to be a ‘work in progress’, responsive to changes in society, or, as its foundational statement, the Basis of Union, expresses it, “a people on the way to the promised end”.
Rev Phil Hoffmann