As we continue to celebrate our 40th anniversary year with reflections on the church’s storied past, Rev Duncan Harrison reminds us of the importance of remembering the Basis of Union, the tensions around union, and the leadership team who guided the new church.
Moses on Mt Moriah challenged Israel after their 40 years of wandering, “Remember your bondage in Egypt and how the Lord delivered you”. (Deuteronomy 15:15)
Often in scripture to “remember” has the dimension of bringing the past into the present, so let us remember our Basis of Union, that great document which was the product of several years of hard work by the Joint Commission on Church Union. They determined not to take the easy road, doing a bit of ecclesiastical carpentry, but went right back to the basic faith of the whole church catholic, sending major reports to the churches before presenting the inspired Basis of Union.
Let’s remember our Basis of Union and its commitment to go forward together “in sole loyalty to Christ” and “through our common worship, witness and service to set forth the word of salvation for all people … remaining open to constant reform under his Word.”
And that’s only Paragraph 1.
Let’s remember the singular place given to the risen crucified one and the sovereign grace of God (Paragraphs 3 and 4).
Let us also remember some of our wise leaders before and since union—the first president Rev Dr Davis McCaughey, a person of great wisdom and grace; Rev Dr Ian Gillman, a wise and patient teacher of unity; Rev Douglas Kirkup and Rev Ron Elvery, ever diligent in necessary administration; and Rev Prof Rollie Busch, our first Queensland Synod moderator. Rollie was a person of many parts, not least of which as a formidable opponent of the excesses of the Bjelke-Petersen government, from policy brutality witnessed by members of our first Synod to the defense of Indigenous peoples’ rights and needs. Time fails to tell of many other women and men who persevered through faith, helping us to rejoice in this new pilgrimage.
We must also remember with sorrow and pain the awful rending of the Presbyterian Church over union, with one-third of members staying out because of perceived doctrinal differences or quarrels over property. The latter eventually led to court cases between the two churches and appeals to higher courts until one day in 1983 when the Presbyterian Assembly clerk rang his friend, the Uniting Church Synod secretary … “We’re wasting the Lord’s money” became the topic over a cup of tea and then, after much consultation, joint ownership of the disputed properties was arranged.
Reconciliation had begun!
Now isn’t that what the Gospel is all about? Isn’t that worth remembering?
Rev Duncan Harrison
Rev Duncan Harrison was the Queensland Synod moderator from 1980–1981 and secretary of the Synod from 1983–1988.