Uniting Church in Australia

The Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) was established on 22 June 1977 when most congregations of the Methodist Church of Australasia, about two thirds of the Presbyterian Church of Australia and almost all the churches of the Congregational Union of Australia came together under the Basis of Union.[2]

Uniting Church in Australia
OrientationReformed, Evangelical, Arminian (Methodist), Calvinist (Presbyterian, Congregational), Charismatic, Progressive Christian
President of the AssemblyDeidre Palmer
Distinct fellowshipsUniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress
AssociationsNCCA, WCC, CCA, WARC, World Methodist Council, Pacific Conference of Churches
Merger ofMethodist Church of Australasia, Presbyterian Church of Australia, Congregational Union of Australia
Members243,000 members (2016)[1]
Nursing homesUnitingCare heavily funds the aging sector
Aid organizationUnitingCare - one of the largest providers of social care in Australia UnitingWorld - overseas aid and partnerships

In 2018, the Uniting Church in Australia claimed it had 243,000 members.[1] In the 2016 census, approximately 870,200 Australians identified a religious affiliation with the Uniting Church in Australia,[3][4] compared to 1,065,796 at the 2011 census. The UCA is the third largest Christian denomination in Australia behind the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church.[5] There are around 2,000 UCA congregations,[1] and National Church Life Survey (NCLS) research in 2001 indicated that average weekly attendance was approximately 10 per cent of census numbers.[6]

The UCA is the largest non-government provider of community and health services in Australia. Its service network consists of more than 400 agencies, institutions, and parish missions throughout Australia, with areas of service including aged care, hospitals, children, youth and family, disability, employment, emergency relief, drug and alcohol, youth homelessness and suicide.[1] Affiliated agencies include UCA's community and health service provider network, affiliated schools, the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, Frontier Services, UnitingWorld, and synods, presbyteries and congregations.


The Uniting Church in Australia is a national, unincorporated association that is made up of inter-concilior councils. Each council has responsibility for various functions and roles within the Uniting Church. The councils include:

The membership of each council is established by the constitution. Each council includes both women and men and lay (non-ordained) and ordained people. The offices of President of Assembly, Moderator of Synod (who chair these councils) and other such offices are open to all members of the UCA whether lay or ordained, male or female.

The UCA is a non-episcopal church; that is, it has no bishops. The leadership and pastoral role in the UCA is performed by a presbytery as a body (meeting). However, many members appear to understand the "chairperson of presbytery" or the "moderator" of the synod as exercising this role. This position may be occupied by an ordained minister or a lay person. In many presbyteries there is also a "presbytery officer" who may be ordained or a lay minister. The presbytery officer in many cases functions as a pastoral minister, a pastor to the pastors (a pastor pastorum) to people in ministry. Other presbyteries use this position for mission consultancy work and others for administrative work.


The Uniting Church in Australia Assembly is the national assembly of UCA.[1] The UCA assembly meets every three years and is chaired by the president. The 14th Assembly met in Perth from 12 to 18 July 2015. The 15th Assembly took place in July 2018, hosted by the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania at Box Hill.

Between assembly meetings, the business of assembly is conducted by the Assembly Standing Committee which meets three times a year, usually March, July and November. Membership of the committee is drawn from around Australia with 18 people elected at each assembly.


The current president is Deidre Palmer, who succeeded Stuart McMillan, at the start of the 15th Assembly on 8 July 2018.[7] Palmer is second woman in the role, following Jill Tabart (1994-1997).[8] Palmer was the moderator of the Presbytery and Synod of South Australia from November 2013 to November 2016.[9]

Reverend Sharon Hollis, the moderator of the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania at the time of her election in 2018, is president-elect, to take on the role of President from the beginning of the sixteenth assembly to be held in Queensland in 2021.[10]


Synods are councils of the Uniting Church that roughly correspond to state boundaries. Each synod meets approximately annually, with a Standing Committee to represent it between sessions. The synod responsibilities include promotion and encouragement of the mission of the Church, theological and ministerial education and overseeing property matters,[11]

There are six synods:[12]


Generally each synod comprises a number of presbyteries.

Western Australia has a unitary presbytery-synod model. South Australia also had a single "Presbytery and Synod" for 15 years to 2019. These large presbyteries provide ways for groups of congregations to work together, based either on geographic location or on networks of similar interests or characteristics.

It is at the level of the presbytery that decisions are made regarding:

  • selection for candidature to ministry,
  • placement of ministers.


There are around 2,000 UCA congregations with 243,000 members and adherents. Congregation range in size from those having hundreds of members to those with a dozen people.[1] Congregations are the church locally. They are the setting of regular worship, generally meeting on Sundays. Many churches also conduct worship services at other times, for example a monthly weekday service, a late-night service for day shift workers, "cafe church", or Saturday or Friday evenings.

A "Meeting of the Congregation" must be held at least twice each year. The meetings typically consider and approve the budget, any overarching policy matters of a local nature, property matters (which have to be ratified by presbytery and synod agencies) and the "call" (employment) of a new minister or other staff.

Congregations manage themselves through a council. All elders are members, as are ministers with pastoral responsibility for the congregation, there may also be other members. The council meets regularly and is responsible for approving the times of the worship services and other matters.

There are some "united" congregations. In some locations, the UCA has joined with other churches (such as Baptist Union and Churches of Christ in Australia. There are also a range of cooperative arrangements where resourcing ministry to congregations is not possible, particularly in rural and remote areas. This includes arrangements with the Anglican Church where ministry resources and sometimes property resources are shared.

"Faith communities" are less structured than congregations. They are groupings of people who gather together for worship, witness or service and choose to be recognised by the presbytery.

Local church buildings are sometimes also used by congregations of other church denominations. For example, a Tongan Seventh-day Adventist congregation may make arrangements to meet in the building on a Saturday.

The UCA is committed to being inclusive and there are a number of multicultural ministry (MCM)] arrangements, with Korean, Tongan and other groups forming congregations of the church.

Co-operating congregations

Co-operating congregations, in typically rural areas, have several denominations worshiping as one congregation, and also rotate which denomination will appoint the next minister. In some places these are known as Union churches, with different denominations using the building at different times.

Frontier Services

A formal Frontier Services ministry is available to people in the Australian outback, with ministers and pastors travelling around the bush properties to visit the families by light aircraft and 4WD vehicles. Their visits are normally arranged ahead so that families can travel from adjacent properties for significant events such as baptisms. The "padres" are based in a major town or city and the local synod is normally the organisational and funding body.

Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress

The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) is sometimes referred to simply as the Congress. The UAICC is formally recognised and enabled within the constitution as having responsibility for oversight of the ministry of the church with the Aboriginal and Islander people of Australia.

A Synod may at the request of a Regional Committee of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress prescribe that the Regional Committee may have and exercise all or specific rights, powers, duties and responsibilities of a Presbytery under this Constitution and the Regulations (including ordination and other rights, powers and responsibilities relating to Ministers) for the purpose of fulfilling any responsibility of the Regional Committee for Uniting Church work with Aboriginal and Islander people within the bounds of the Synod.[19]


UnitingCare as a whole is the largest operator of general social care activities in Australia, including being the largest operator of aged care facilities. Other activities include "central missions"; shelters and emergency housing for men, women and children; family relationships support; disability services; and food kitchens for underprivileged people.

Assemblies and synods have a number of other "agencies", such as:

  • Assembly
    • Frontier Services
    • Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (the UAICC operates in many ways as a Synod) collectively represents the Indigenous Australians who are members of the Christian church. It is estimated that there are between 10,000 and 15,000 people involved.
    • UnitingCare Australia
    • UnitingJustice Australia
    • UnitingWorld
  • Synods
    • NSW - Rural Evangelism and Mission
    • WA - Social Justice and Uniting International Mission
    • Vic/Tas - Working Group on Christian-Jewish relations
    • SA - Mission Resourcing Network
    • QLD - Blue Care


The UCA provides theological training and ministerial formation through a number of theological colleges. All are members of ecumenical theological consortia:

Generally training takes five years and involves substantial supervised practical experience.

The UCA is associated with several schools and residential university colleges, with the oldest being Newington College in Sydney. In Adelaide, for example, they include Westminster School, Scotch College, Pedare Christian College, Prince Alfred College, Annesley College and Lincoln College. It runs 48 schools, ranging from long-established schools with large enrolments to small, recently established low-fee schools. In Brisbane, the Uniting Church established Moreton Bay College in the early 20th century. The college is located in the bayside suburb of Manly West.

Christian education is provided for all members of the Uniting Church, for all ages, through local congregations and agencies.


The National Christian Youth Convention is a national UCA activity, run in school and university holidays in January every second year in a different city.

NCYC attracts over 1,500 young people aged 16–30 from around the nation plus visiting delegations from overseas. Leadership is by a local organising team, but NCYC is a national event. In recent years a university campus and its accommodation has been the base for event.

NCYC began in 1955 with an evangelical campaign run by Alan Walker as an activity of the then Central Methodist Mission in Sydney.

Recent history

Yuróra NCYC 2017 Uniting Culture was in Sydney in January 2017.[22]

Yuróra NCYC 2014 was held in North Parramatta, Sydney from 7 January 2014 to 10 January 2014.[23]

NCYC 2011 was held from 29 December 2010 to 4 January 2011 at the Southport School on the Gold Coast, Queensland.

NCYC09 Converge was held in January 2009 in Melbourne, Victoria. Key speakers included Shane Claiborne, Amie Dural and Robyn Whitaker, along with Daniel Todd and Fa Ngaluafe. Bands included Scat Jazz, Simeon, 2-11 and Raize as well as poet Cameron Semmens and Margaret Helen King.

NCYC 2007 Agents of Change was held in Perth, Western Australia.[24]


The international aid and partnerships agency of the Church is UnitingWorld.[25] It receives funding from Government of Australia to implement development and poverty alleviation programs in the Pacific, Asia and Africa.[26] UnitingWorld works in partnership with 18 overseas church denominations to support more than 180,000 people a year through sustainable community development projects.[25]


The role of the laity is valued in the UCA, recognising that ministry is a function of the whole church and all members. However, certain specific roles or "specified ministries" are defined.[19] Of these, the role of elder and pastor are open to lay members.

There are two orders of ordained ministry in the Uniting Church, these are:

When it is not possible or desired to have an ordained minister, a lay preacher or lay ministry team may act in their place, as in the tradition of the Methodist local preacher. Lay preachers are required to participate in training and examinations conducted by each synod, and must be approved by the presbytery before they are recognised as lay preachers.[11]


The UCA was one of the first Australian churches to grant self-determination to its Indigenous Australian members through the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress.

Partnerships also continue with South Pacific and Asian churches, especially those which share a Congregational, Presbyterian or Methodist heritage. An increasing number of ethnic churches worship in their own languages as well as in English.

The UCA has a strongly felt and argued sense of social justice. It has taken stances on issues such as native title for Indigenous people, the environment, apartheid, status of refugees and provision of safe injection facilities for drug users. These stances have been expressed in practical involvement and in political comment and advocacy.


Liturgically the UCA is varied, practice ranges from experimental liturgies, informal worship reminiscent of the 'Jesus Revolution' of the 1970s to conventional reformed services. Music is likewise varied, from traditional and contemporary hymns in the Australian Hymn Book and Together in Song, through Hillsong and Contemporary Christian music to hard Christian alternative music and Christian metal.

Liturgical dress in the Uniting Church is generally lenient, and is optional for ministers and other leaders of worship.[27] When liturgical dress is used, it most commonly consists of a white alb, and a stole (for ministers and deacons) or a scarf (for lay preachers). Often the colour of the scarf or stole has some significance to the liturgical calendar; for example, purple for Lent or red for Pentecost.

Decision making

Since 1997 most of these councils and agencies have operated under the consensus decision-making procedures outlined in the church's Manual for Meetings. These procedures may use orange ("support") and blue ("do not support") cards, which may be displayed at many times, not just when a vote is called. The idea behind this is about trying to hear the Spirit of God through the gathered community rather than through individuals.

This system was suggested to the World Council of Churches by the UCA, and first used at its formal meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil in February 2006 H. D'Arcy Wood and James Haire, former presidents of the Uniting Church in Australia, were present to assist with the introduction of this innovation.

Commitment to ecumenism

The Uniting Church is an example of ecumenism; it is one of a number of united and uniting churches globally.

The Uniting Church, as were its precursors, is engaged in ecumenical activities:

The UCA is affiliated with the:


The range of theology perspectives in the UCA is broad, reflecting its Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational church origins and its commitment to ecumenism. The theology can be typified as mainline Protestantism with a commitment to social justice.

Theological perspectives found in the Uniting Church:

There has been considerable debate around the concerns of morality, faith, and in particular sexuality. These concerns focus on the understanding of the Bible and issues of accommodation to the dominant culture.

The Uniting Network Australia is "the national network for lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex and transgender people, their families, friends and supporters within the Uniting Church in Australia."[28] The establishment of the Evangelical Members within the Uniting Church in Australia (EMU), the Reforming Alliance and their merger into the Assembly of Confessing Congregations (ACC) illustrate conservative opposition to the ordination of gay and lesbian candidates and are examples of the Confessing Movement.[29] The ACC has declared the current assembly as apostate, but refuses to leave the Uniting Church because the lure of money and church buildings is more lucrative than standing on their own faith claims.

Homosexuality issues

An issue regularly debated almost from the inception of the Uniting Church in Australia is the place of gay and lesbian people in the church and, in particular, the possibility of their ordination and the blessing of same-sex unions. Currently, the church permits local presbyteries to ordain openly gay and lesbian ministers.[30] The church extends this local option to marriage; a minister may perform a same-sex marriage.

The fairly broad consensus has been that a person's sexual orientation should not be a bar to attendance, membership or participation in the life of the church. More controversial has been the issue of sexual activity by gay and lesbian people and, arising from this, the sexual behaviour of ordination candidates. In 2003, the church voted to allow local presbyteries to decide whether to ordain openly gay and lesbian people as ministers.[31] Ministers were permitted to provide blessing services for same-sex couples entering into civil unions even before same-sex marriage was legalized in Australia in late 2017.[32]

In July 2018 the Uniting Church national Assembly voted to approve the creation of official marriage rites for same-sex couples.[33]


  • 1982 Assembly Standing Committee (ASC) decided that sexual orientation was not a bar to ordination and left the decision about candidature with the presbytery.
  • 1997 Assembly after an emotional debate, a decision on the issue was not made
  • 2000 Assembly decided not to discuss the issue of sexuality.
  • 2003 Assembly attempted to clarify the church's earlier position:
    • a resolution was passed recognising that people within the UCA had interpreted the scriptures with integrity in coming to two opposed views
    • That based on these different views, some concluded that a gay or lesbian person in a committed relationship could be ordained as a minister and others not.
    • The recognition of the two positions failed to distinguish between orientation and behaviour; this surprised many as it went further than the 1982 Assembly Standing Committee decision.
    • Post 2003 Assembly:
      • Uniting Network, a group for supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender UCA members welcomed the decision, although some saw it as a compromise from their preferred position. (Uniting Network formed out of bi-annual gatherings of gay and lesbian Christians, and their supporters, begun in 1994.)
      • many members of the UCA and particularly EMU condemned the decision
      • The Reforming Alliance was set up - representing EMU, many ethnic congregations and the many in the UAICC.
      • The ASC subsequently varied the wording of the resolution to remove reference to specific positions, so as not to affirm any particular standard of sexual ethics. The ASC also issued an apology that better communication did not occur leading up to 2003 Assembly
      • Leading up to the 2006 Assembly, a church wide process of response, reflection and preparation has been initiated.
  • 2006 Assembly considered the matter again and did not reach consensus:
    • Members of its 11th Assembly meeting in Brisbane agreed they were "not of one mind" on the issue of accepting into ministry people who were living in a committed same-gender sexual relationships.
    • They said that "notwithstanding the hopes of many in the church", the Assembly "is not prepared to exercise further its determining responsibility in this matter".
    • The key elements in the Assembly's resolution:
      • "our acknowledgment and lament that the 10th Assembly decision was a catalyst for concern and pain in the church;
      • an assurance that congregations who do not wish to receive into placement a minister who is living in a committed same-sex relationship will not be compelled to do so, and that congregations willing to have such a minister will have their decision respected;
      • a request to the Working Group on Doctrine to assist the church in its ongoing consideration of our theological diversity on this issue;
      • a call to the whole church to recommit itself to its primary purposes of worship, witness and service."

Current situation

The Assembly resolution and subsequent ASC material stated that when presbyteries select candidates for ministry they may be guided by a presbytery commitment to a particular approach to sexual ethics, but each determination of candidature must still be made case by case.

During the course of the debate, and in particular from 1997 onwards, some ministers living in same-sex relationships have "come out" without their ordination or ministry being challenged. This means that the Uniting Church in Australia is one of very few Christian denominations that accept and support the ministry of people in same-sex relationships. In 2011, the Uniting Church in Australia allowed blessing of same-sex unions.[34] In 2018, the Uniting Church resolved to allow local congregations and ministers to decide whether to perform same-sex marriages; ministers may now perform same-sex weddings.[35]


The UCA has several people who are acknowledged within itself and more widely as theologians, including:


(President; General Secretary)

  1. June 1977 Rev Davis McCaughey; Rev Winston O'Reilly; Sydney, New South Wales
  2. May 1979 Rev Winston O'Reilly; O’Reilly to December 1979; Melbourne, Victoria
  3. May 1982 Rev Rolland Busch; David Gill from January 1980; Adelaide, South Australia
  4. May 1985 Rev Ian B. Tanner; David Gill; Sydney
  5. May 1988 Sir Ronald Wilson; David Gill to July 1988; Melbourne
  6. July 1991 Rev D'Arcy Wood; Rev Gregor Henderson from January 1989; Brisbane, Queensland
  7. July 1994 Dr Jill Tabart; Rev Gregor Henderson; Sydney
  8. July 1997 Rev John Mavor; Rev Gregor Henderson; Perth, Western Australia
  9. July 2000 Rev James Haire; Rev Gregor Henderson; Adelaide
  10. July 2003 Rev Dean Drayton; Rev Terence Corkin from January 2001; Melbourne
  11. July 2006 Rev Gregor Henderson; Rev Terence Corkin; Brisbane
  12. July 2009 Rev Alistair Macrae; Rev Terence Corkin; Sydney
  13. July 2012 Rev Dr Andrew Dutney; Rev Terence Corkin; Adelaide
  14. July 2015 Mr Stuart McMillan; Ms Colleen Geyer from January 2016; Perth
  15. July 2018 Dr Deidre Palmer; Ms Colleen Geyer; Box Hill, Melbourne

Statistics, facts and trivia

  • The Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) is a uniquely Australian church, similar to other united and uniting churches which maintain a cultural identity in their own country while expressing ecumenical fellowship with other Christian denominations worldwide.[36]
  • The Uniting Church in Australia is the third largest church denomination (after Catholic and Anglican).
  • About five to seven per cent of the membership worship in languages other than English, including Aboriginal languages.[37]
  • Since 1977 over 270,000 poor deceased have had their final cremation at one of the Uniting Churches funeral facilities.
  • Between 1991 and 2013, Uniting Church attendances declined by a total of 41 per cent. In 2013, approximately 97,200 people attended weekly worship services around Australia.[38]

See also


  1. "Submission to the Review of the ACNC Legislation" (PDF). Uniting Church in Australia. February 2018.
  2. "Uniting Church in Australia Assembly - About the Uniting Church in Australia". assembly.uca.org.au. Retrieved 19 November 2019.
  3. Krajevitch, A.; Blot, P.; Cara, M. (1975). "[Transport of newborn infants. Apropos of 114 cases]". Annales De L'anesthesiologie Francaise. 16 Spec No 1: 135–142. ISSN 0003-4061. PMID 2071.
  4. 2016 Census of Population and General Community (Sheet G14) Australian Bureau of Statistics
  5. "Cultural Diversity in Australia". abs.gov.au. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  6. "Census vs Attendance (2001)" National Church Life Survey
  7. "Dr Deidre Palmer: God's abundant grace shapes and reshapes us". Insights Magazine. 9 July 2018. Retrieved 9 July 2018.
  8. President-Elect announced, Uniting Church in Australia, 16 July 2015
  9. "President-Elect announced". Uniting Church in Australia. 16 July 2015. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  10. "Sharon Hollis named as UCA President-elect". Uniting Church in Australia. 12 July 2018. Retrieved 12 July 2018.
  11. "The Uniting Church in Australia Regulations" (PDF). pp. 75–78. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  12. "Uniting Church in Australia Assembly - Home". uca.org.au.
  13. "Uniting for the common good". Synod of NSW and the ACT.
  14. "The Uniting Church in Australia Queensland Synod".
  15. "Uniting Church SA - Uniting Church. Uniting People".
  16. "Uniting Church in Australia, Western Australia".
  17. "Uniting Church in Australia. Synod of Victoria and Tasmania".
  18. "Uniting Church in Australia Northern Synod".
  19. "Constitution of the Uniting Church in Australia (2004)" Uniting Church Assembly Website
  20. Media Release: ACU and Trinity Theological College unite in a sharing of resources, (26 February 2009), Australian Catholic University, Brisbane accessed 30 March 2015
  21. Commission for Education for Discipleship and Leadership, Annual Report 2018
  22. "Yurora 2017". National Christian Youth Convention. Archived from the original on 5 February 2017.
  23. "NCYC 2014". Archived from the original on 26 February 2015.
  24. "NCYC 2007: Agents of Change". Retrieved 9 January 2007.
  25. "UnitingWorld Annual Report 2018" (PDF). UnitingWorld Governance and Structure.
  26. "List of Australian accredited non-government organisations (NGOs)". Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Retrieved 19 July 2019.
  27. Gribben, Robert. "Liturgical Dress in the Uniting Church" (PDF).
  28. "Uniting Network Australia". Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  29. The Confessing Movement should not be confused with the Confessing Church.
  30. "Global Trend: World's oldest Protestant churches now ordain gays and lesbians". ucc.org. United Church of Christ. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  31. O'brien, Kerry. "Nile quits church over gay ordination decision". abc.net.au. ABC. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  32. Hiatt, Bethany. "Uniting Church may overhaul rules of marriage". au.news.yahoo.com. AU News. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  33. Sandeman, John (13 July 2018). "Uniting Church to hold same sex marriages". Eternity. Australia. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  34. UnitingNetworkAustralia Archived 2011-02-18 at the Wayback Machine
  35. "Uniting Church to allow same-sex marriages". SBS News. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  36. edited by Helen Richmond and Myong Duk Yang (2006). Crossing borders : shaping faith, ministry and identity in multicultural Australia. Sydney: Openbook Australia. pp. 138–146. ISBN 1864072474. OCLC 224450283.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  37. "Wesley Mission - The Uniting Church". www.wesleymission.org.au. Retrieved 19 July 2019.
  38. "2013 Uniting Church Census of congregations and ministers - Headline Report" (PDF). National Church Life Survey Research. p. 4. Retrieved 9 February 2016.

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