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‘Cease being divisive, get on with mission,’ urges new President


The new President of the Uniting Church has challenged local congregations across the country to get on with mission — finding new ways to connect with the 80 per cent of Australians who no longer have regular contact with the church.

The Rev. Gregor Henderson was installed as the 11th President of the Uniting Church in Australia during the opening service of the church’s national Assembly meeting in Brisbane on Tuesday July 5.

A minister at Wesley Church in Forrest and St Aidan’s Church in Narrabundah, ACT, Mr Henderson will serve in the role for three years.

In a sermon on the Assembly theme, “God’s Word, God’s World”, Mr Henderson said the church needed to focus on being at worship and at mission if it was to reach out and connect with those outside it.

Congregations also needed to let God’s living Word excite and inspire them, he said. This would help them shake off their “moribund” behaviour and find new confidence that God was leading the church into His future.

Mr Henderson said it was imperative that in the next few years the Uniting Church lived out two big convictions about the Christian life, with passion and determination:

“That God’s living Word is there for us and for everyone, every day — alive, active, succeeding and seeking for us to receive God’s love and to know God’s power and peace in our lives;

“And that God’s living Word is at work in God’s world, every day — seeking for people to join with God in working for and with compassion and justice and peace.”

‘In all things love’

Mr Henderson said while debates about what was essential or not essential to the faith were healthy, disagreements over theology and pastoral issues like sexuality and leadership (that sometimes descended into personal denigration and abuse) hurt the church’s mission to engage with God’s world and people.

“These are shameful behaviours, not worthy of Christians,” he said.

Instead, the church should remember the 17th century German Reformation principle: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things love.”

The church also needed to remember that it existed “not for its own sake but for the sake of the world and of a new humanity in Christ”.

Witnessing to God’s Word in God’s world would inevitably mean serious disagreements with those in political power, Mr Henderson said.

He applauded our governments for policies and outcomes such as overall national prosperity, multiculturalism, peace-making in the Solomons and East Timor, our generous response to the tsunami disaster and other natural disasters, and finally moving to increase our levels of overseas aid.

But Mr Henderson said nothing like the same insight, commitment or generosity had been offered to indigenous Australians, or to asylum seekers, or to David Hicks, the Australian citizen being held prisoner by the United States Government at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

“At a time of extraordinarily increasing wealth in this country, how can we justify the fact that the gap between rich and poor is wider than ever before in our history, and how can we accept that there are people in this country who every day are victims of poverty, racism, physical or sexual abuse, homelessness?

“What’s happened to the concept of the ‘common good’? What’s happened to our compassion, to our peaceful and safe communities, to our concept of the ‘fair go’, to God’s gifts of life and light for God’s world?”

Mr Henderson said it was time to engage strongly in the national and international life of God’s world.

“It’s not a time for shirking God’s mission — it is a time to set the Uniting Church free to proclaim and live the good news of Christ, to cease our divisiveness and to get on with being the church at mission.”

You can dowload an MP3 file of the Presidents sermon at the Assembly Opening Service HERE.