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Journey asks: Why do you hang in with the Uniting Church?

From top: Mark Cornford; Rob Brennan; Ann Hobson; Michelle Cook.

Mark Cornford

If I had been asked this question ten years ago I would have answered with something like “the Uniting Church is no better or worse than any other church”.

I had a general agreement with most of the theology of the Uniting Church, historically it was where I had grown up, and I had a vague sense that this was where God wanted me to be.

Since then a lot has happened, not only in the UC, but in my own life and ministry. I have had great times, frustrating times and sometimes very painful times with friends and companions as together we lived out our faith as God’s church. I have had times of great anger and annoyance at ‘the institution’ and wondered why I bothered at all. And I have reflected on why I did stay, especially when faced with the possibility of leaving.

None of my reasons from ten years ago has enough foundation to keep me part of the UC. As a human institution it is just as fallen as every other institution and there is nothing particularly special about it. But that is the point. It is not another human institution.

About 5 years ago I discovered a statement from the inaugural worship service of the UC in Sydney in 1977 expressing the call of the UC (see the text box).

This is why I stay with the UC. Because God has called me to join with him and others in living out God’s mission of transforming the world through the Gospel of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.
And God has called me to do this with this bunch of people who call themselves the Uniting Church.

Nothing could be more exciting. Nothing could be more frustrating and scary. But this is Jesus’ call and I can do nothing else but follow.

Mark  is ministering in the Deception Bay community and church.

Rob Brennan

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have asked myselfthat question since most of my first congregation have left as well as many clergy friends as a result of Resolution 84. Hey, I was always the impatient one, who always thought I would go before the others.

So why stay? Firstly, there is the real sense of God’s call. When I felt the call to ordained ministry, I struggled for months asking, “Why that God? Why the UCA?” I lost, God won. So this was the place I trained and ministered.

There is also a shepherd’s serious sense of duty with promises made to care for and participate in this church’s life. These things are not lightly placed aside. However, neither are convictions that it is God and not we who defines the nature of both sin and the gospel.

I cannot ultimately put my understanding of experience or reason or even a sense of belonging above God’s word. This is ultimately what Resolution 84 asks of us. Our life in faith is held in tension between Scripture, reason and experience. As a Christian in evangelical charismatic traditions, I am prepared to stake my life and eternity only on Scripture. This is in spite of working in many different industries with many different types of people and having been a lifelong student.

To give up would mean giving up hope of being able to reform the UCA. As I wrote recently in Travelling EMU it is never okay to leave, but sometimes necessary. My hope and prayer is that I never have to reach that point of grief but that, along with many other evangelical Christians, I will be able to find a continuing place to proclaim Christ’s gospel where Christ has placed me.

Rob Brennan is minister with the Caboolture Region Uniting Churches.

Ann Hobson

I stay in the UC because the Basis of Union, the Code of Ethics, the Child Safe Church, the regulations for dealing with misconduct, and guidelines for conducting meetings and for preventing vilification and harassment keep reminding me that this denomination has an ideal of saving and safekeeping its members and those vulnerable people to whom it ministers.

It takes seriously Jesus’ command to do good, not harm, with our religious practice. I feel most like leaving when these underlying values are ignored or overridden either through ignorance or in the interests of popular support or internal appeasement.

I have experienced a lot of good from the church – some wonderful leaders and friends, home devotions and studies, Sunday School exams and Lay Preachers’ courses and camps.

Parent Effectiveness Training, and pastoral and management training all came to me through the church. These gave me a depth and breadth of scriptural knowledge, theology and praxis that taught me the values from which I choose those that enhance both personal and religious life, and the tools to challenge destructive beliefs and practices.

There are a lot of other denominations where a laywoman would not have been allowed these opportunities, or be accorded these safeguards. Thank you UCA! Just keep it up!

Ann Hobson is a lay leader from the Theodore Congregation.

Michelle Cook

Encouragement, exploration, empathy and excitement are the reasons why I hang in with the Uniting Church. I have experienced these ‘Es’ since my childhood, growing up at Indooroopilly UC.

In many churches a youth service is one where a young person reads the Bible, perhaps sings a solo and the rest of the congregation clap and think, “How nice, for the young people to be involved”. In the congregation where I was a teenager this didn’t happen. Instead everyone was encouraged to lead worship. This inspired me to lead worship myself.

When I was exploring the option of confirmation I continually came upon the stumbling block, for me, of the Nicene Creed. Where was the stuff about justice? The Holy Spirit? I was lucky because I could ask these questions and explore with my minister what the Nicene Creed meant.

Now with more awareness of the whole church I am constantly amazed at the empathy of people and groups within the UC. There are people concerned with justice for those who are excluded by the church, the society or both. This is not just an idle concern, but it is deep; rooted in the stories of the Bible, stories where God gives voices to the oppressed, the poor, and those seen as unclean.

Excitement in the UC is not always a positive experience. Sometimes it is more like agitation and other times like exhilaration, but in the coming year I am looking forward to the church embracing the call of Christ on our lives: “To bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and proclaim the year of Jubilee” (cf Luke 4:18-19), to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (cf Matthew:19) and to live as if there are no longer divisions between us for we are all one in Jesus the Christ (cf Galatians 3:28).

Michelle Cook is an Intern Deacon in Weipa and the Cape York region.

Photo : From top: Mark Cornford; Rob Brennan; Ann Hobson; Michelle Cook.