The end of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations and, hopefully, their aggressive apologetic antagonism

Another step in the story of evangelical fundamentalism in the Uniting Church has come to a close. The Assembly of Confessing Congregations (ACC) has recently decided to close. It brings to an end a long process of various evangelical organisations within the life of the Uniting Church which have attempted to “correct” the theology and practice of the Uniting Church, since it was established in 1977. They said they were evangelical; I heard little of the Gospel in their words and saw only dogmatic fundamentalism in what they did.

The ACC has existed as an entity within the UCA since 2006. It took its name from the Confessing Church that formed in Nazi Germany in the 1930s—a name that has also been adopted by other conservative groups around the world, staking their claim for “the true Gospel”. Of course, looking back to the 1930s and 1940s, we can see that the German Confessing Church in Hitler’s Germany did, indeed, hold fast to the principles of the Gospel. For other movements that later took that name, making their stand over other issues does not appear to be as clear cut. At least, that is my take on them.

The ACC is the child of the Reforming Alliance (RA), which had been formed in 2003—the RA was a relatively short-lived entity, as it soon morphed into the ACC in 2006. RA itself was a child of the Evangelical Members of the Uniting Church (EMU), making the ACC the grandchild of EMU. EMU had been formed early in the life of the Uniting Church.

Each of these conservative splinter groups sought to enforce their narrow and retrograde understanding of matters pertaining particularly to sexuality on the whole UCA—with persistent, and increasing, failure. They each, in turn, failed in that enterprise.

The proponents of the conservative theological perspective articulated by these splinter organisations buttressed their claims with a particular way of reading scripture, and with a particular mode of theological argumentation that slots well into the field called Apologetics. That’s the name given to a way of arguing that sets out a collection of beliefs that are held by a certain group and advocates that this cluster of beliefs represents “right doctrine”, “the true faith”, “what Bible-believing Christians hold to”, or some other catchphrase that revolves around being right.

Apologetics at its best the craft of arguing your case, putting forward your point of view, in a way that engages constructively with the listener. It can be done in an irenic and reasoned way. But the way the ACC and its precursors argued was anything but irenic and reasoned. The implication from much of what they said has been that those who hold different viewpoints to the one they are proposing are just plain wrong. It’s a style of speaking and writing that often, in these kinds of situations, takes on a hard edge—moving from assertions about beliefs, to a much more aggressive manner of apologetic argumentation. We can see that throughout the years that these groups were in existence.


Evangelical Members of the Uniting Church started as Evangelical Ministers of the Uniting Church, formed in South Australia out of a concern about the so-called “liberal” tendencies dominant in the newly-formed Uniting Church. Over time, the SA group grew with branches formed in other Synods, and then a national organisation emerged.

In the early years of the church, various evangelical members and ministers had opposed the church’s commitment to equality and mutuality, specifically arguing against female ministers. In my first parish, for instance, in 1981–1983, I worked hard to engage with members of my own parish, as well as members of other nearby UCA congregations, who held to that retrograde view and argued that the UCA was doing the wrong thing by ordaining women. They argued apologetically against me, and others. I think their apologetics were misguided.

I was a member of a Synod working group later in the 1980s that produced resources addressing the issue of mutuality in ministry, and the ordination of women, in direct response to evangelical members pushing the counter position. I know that women in ministry in the UCA have continued to experience discrimination and marginalisation into the 21st century. I have both heard from others, and witnessed for myself, some horror stories, unfortunately.

EMU was strongly focused on the issue of biblical authority. (This stance has been used to undergird the claim that the Bible does not support the ordination of women). The doctrinal statement crafted by EMU had strong resonances with the general conservative evangelical assertion that the Bible was inerrant, infallible, and completely authoritative, even though the founding documents of the UCA had explicitly not included such terminology. It’s almost fundamentalist, I think.

For a summary of the doctrinal position taken by EMU, see


Already in the 1980s the Assembly had established a Task Group on Sexuality, exploring the issues raised by EMU and then RA. There is a good summary of the work of this group, and the ensuing two decades of discussion of sexuality, at

The Reforming Alliance was established in response to the 10th Assembly’s decision in 2003, not to make a statement opposing the ordination of people who are in a same-gender relationship.

RA had fought against the reasoned articulation of “an informed faith” in relation to scripture and sexuality. Its apologetic line was to advocate a conservative, perhaps even fundamentalist, approach to scripture, which although it had been the dominant paradigm in some denominations, had never been the way that the UCA had approached biblical interpretation.

The push by RA to have a ban placed on ordaining candidates who expressed an attraction to people of the same gender, whether or not they were in an active relationship of not, has failed spectacularly—there are now scores of ordained people who live in same gender relationships and, since 2019, have been married to a person of the same gender.

For a summary of the doctrinal position taken by the Reforming Alliance, see

After the decision of the Assembly in 2003, there was a resurgence in rhetoric warning that the church would die, that this latest decision would mark the end of the Uniting Church. The rhetoric was steadily inflated. The apologetic took on an angry, aggressive tone. The strategy seemed to be to induce guilt about the future of the church, with the hope that this would result in an overturning of the decision. It did not. Some people left the UCA. Some congregations split. Ministry and Mission continued apace. The UCA continued on.


After the 11th Assembly in 2006, a special summit of the remnants of EMU and the relatively new Reforming Alliance met, to establish a new organisation, the Assembly of Confessing Congregations (ACC) within the Uniting Church. The marriage was purely on the basis of sex—or, at least, on a common negative view of sexuality and a shared desire to combat anything that was perceived to be accepting of same-gender attracted people in ministry, and accepting also of same-gender relationships.

The battle waged by the ACC has continued into the present time. The appologetic rhetoric has continued, and intensified, as the obvious lack of impact in the strategy became more evident. The focus became narrower and narrower; more discriminatory, more homophobic. The furious attempts to generate guilt and build opposition was magnified, but to no avail. The move,ent began to dwindle. Meanwhile, the Uniting Church has continued on the path it has set years ago: a path of welcome and inclusion, and the valuing of all people.

So, what we have seen in recent years is playing out the four decades of the UCA where disenchanted conservative evangelical pietistic fundamentalists have resisted the moves towards “an informed faith” which thinking Methodists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians all saw as a key commitment within the Uniting Church. The ACC has been waging an ongoing battle against this position for 15 years, but the majority of the UCA has always been engaged with the processes of critical thinking and fresh words and deeds which the Basis of Union holds as a key value.

In the last few years, the ACC has swerved even more to the hard right; it spoke in tones even harsher and unflinching, compared to RA and EMU. The extremes of the theological position of the ACC can be seen on their webpage at

and also in a statement expressing its hard line about sexuality, at


It has only been in recent days that the ACC has “seen the light” and realised that continuing this battle is futile. An attempt earlier this year (2023) to negotiate a way for ACC congregations to leave the Uniting Church, but maintain the use of the property they inhabited and continue to use the funds they had accumulated, got nowhere.

Because the Uniting Church was set up with a structure in which the property is legally owned by the legal entity, the UCA Property Trust, established by law in each state and territory, no local congregation has legal ownership of their property. Each congregation enjoys “beneficial stewardship” of the property—they can use it, and look after it, but they do not own it in the strict legal sense. That has been the case for all of the 46 years during which the Uniting Church has been in existence.

So, after the ACC pitch for an amenable parting of the ways got nowhere—and after some key leaders of the ACC had their recognition as Uniting Church Ministers removed—the ACC national executive saw the writing on the wall, prepared a proposal to close the organisation, and then last week the national membership of the ACC voted to close.

A recent group of ACC leaders

It has been a sad and sorry saga; not because we have come to a sad end result (on the contrary!), but because of the turmoil caused and the damage inflicted by rabid members of the ACC and their predecessors over the last four decades. The constant badgering of councils of the church to address matters which they saw as of primary importance—but which did not figure in most people’s view as warranting that amount of attention—has been frustrating, annoying, and counter-productive. The Gospel has actually been hindered by these tactics.

The regular antagonism, the growing negativity in rhetoric, and the incidences of specific vitriolic attacks on individuals within the church—undertaken by members of the ACC and their predecessors, and targeted largely at gay, lesbian, and transgender people—has been utterly shameful. I don’t know how many times I have heard people from within the LGBTIQA+ community recount how terribly they have been treated within church circles—including, but not limited to, the Uniting Church. And as far as I can tell, any ACC leader who was called to account for such behaviour failed to acknowledge any remorse, or show any compassion over such behaviour.

The regular response I have heard and read is that they are “standing up for the Gospel”, “declaring the truth to an apostate church”, and suchlike. There is no compassion, no empathy, no understanding—simply an aggressive prosecution of a rigid dogmatic line. I know this to be the case across the board; I know it especially since Elizabeth and I have each been targeted by a rogue ACC member, who is completely without understanding and completely without compassion in the way he goes about things. I don’t think he is an exception; I have heard and seen other instances of the same behaviour.

It is a well-known fact that members of the LGBTIQA+ community are much more likely to have suicidal ideation and at times to act on that, and also to develop other negative coping mechanisms that impinge upon their mental and physical health—simply because of the way that they are treated, the terrible negative comments and brutal attacks that they have to endure, simply because of who they are. That is completely unacceptable. The words and deeds of the ACC have fed into this dynamic; ACC leaders have fostered this negativity, persecution, and even irrational hatred. It is completely unChristian.

So that is why this has been a sad and sorry saga. I rejoice at the conclusion of the ACC. I lament that it did not come years early. I am sad that there was ever felt a need to create EMU, or RA, or ACC. I rejoice that the Uniting Church is committed to providing safe spaces for members of the LGBTIQA+ community, just as much as for straight people. We are all welcome, all included, all valued, and all honoured for being faithful followers of Jesus, across a wonderfully varied spectrum of identities.


Today is a good day to reflect on these matters. Today is the Trans Day of Visibility—an annual international celebration of trans pride and awareness, recognising trans- and gender-diverse experiences and achievements. Gender diverse people right around Australia gather on this day to share stories, engaged in conversations, and attend trans-focusses events.

Trans Day of Visibility was started by activist Rachel Crandall in 2009 as a reaction to the lack of recognition of trans people, noting that the only well known gender-diversity centered day at that time was the Trans Day of Mourning, a day of mourning, on 20 November. So the j was created as a counterpoint to this; a day to acknowledge and celebrate living members of the transgender community. International Transgender Day of Visibility has been held on March 31 ever since.

In our current context in society, when trans people are the object of vitriolic verbal abuse as well as physical assault—simply for identifying as transgender—it is important for people of goodwill to speak out in support of trans people. Undergoing that journey in your life is a significant and challenging process; adding verbal and physical negativity on top of the challenges of the process is most unfair.

I have been blessed in recent years to get to know a number of trans people personally. In each case, they are people of integrity, who have quite a story to tell, who are committed to expressing in public “who they feel they really are, deep down”. It’s a journey and a commitment that I feel I have no right to criticise—I feel I should only be honouring them for their chosen pathway in life. Indeed, being true to yourself has been a virtue since the classical period of Greece and Rome, millennia ago.

We should honour and value those people in our midst who, facing a large challenge, knowing that they are walking into the active dislike and fear that other people have, still choose to walk the way of absolute inner integrity and complete honesty. That’s what this day offers us: we see trans people, we hear them, we honour them. They are valued.


My previous posts on the various evangelical/fundamentalist groups in the UCA are at

See also my post on the United Methodist Church at

For the various affirmations that the Assembly has made that led the church to agree to the marriage of people of the same gender, see

See also

God calls all Christians to be peacemakers

Today there is one of those regular reminders that occur in social media, about remembering war—the victims of war, those who have died, the consequences of armed struggle.

It is a good day to remember, also, that the Gospel is a call to peacemaking and reconciliation. This is at the heart of the commitments that the Uniting Church in Australia, amongst many other churches, has made over the decades.

At the Tenth Assembly in 2003, the Uniting Church affirmed “that God came in the crucified and risen Christ to make peace; and that God calls all Christians to be peacemakers, to save life, to heal and to love their neighbours; and that the Church is committed to be a peacemaking body”. (Uniting for Peace, Tenth Assembly, Uniting Church in Australia) A number of the UCA statements and resources relating to peacemaking are collected at

Peacemaking has been a central concern of the Uniting Church since its inception in 1977. As early as 1982, the Assembly made a major statement on peacemaking, with two clear declarations: first, that “God came in the crucified and risen Christ to make peace [and] He calls all Christians to be peacemakers, to save life, to heal and to love their neighbours”; and second, that “the call of Christ to make peace is the norm, the onus of proof rests on any who resort to military force as a means of solving international disputes” (Militarism and Disarmament, 1982).

In 1988, in a Statement to the Nation issued for the Australian Bicentennial, the church declared, “In cooperation with all fellow Australians of goodwill, we are committed to work for justice and peace, calling for honesty and integrity, encouraging tolerance and compassion, challenging acquisitiveness and greed, opposing discrimination and prejudice, condemning violence and oppression and creating a loving and caring community”.

At that same Assembly, a statement on Nuclear Deterrence, Disarmament and Peace was also issued, with the statement that “All Christian affirmation about peace is grounded in the declaration that Jesus Christ is our peace. Through him the power of evil, sin and death is decisively broken, and the hostile and alienated world is reconciled to God and is itself renewed. We speak in hope, trusting God’s promise of the final transformation of all things.”

In 2003 the Assembly adopted an extensive statement entitled Uniting for Peace. In this statement the Uniting Church promised to “work together for peace, justice and reconciliation at the local, national and global level and in collaboration with local communities, secular movements, non- government agencies and people of other faiths”. We declared that we embraced “creative approaches to peacebuilding which are consonant with the spirit of the Gospel” and that we sought to “empower people who are systematically oppressed by violence, and to act in solidarity with those struggling for justice, peace and the integrity of creation”. The Statement also indicated an intention to “repent of our complicity in violence and attempt to overcome the spirit, logic and practice of violence”.

For the International Day of Peace in 2016, the church issued a resource which explored three important “Building Blocks for Peace— gender equality, climate justice, and nuclear disarmament”. See

Continuing this commitment to peace today is important. One member of the Uniting Church, Len Baglow, has written this helpful piece on making peace, in which he gives serious consideration to a difficult question: “what does it mean in our time to be a peacemaker?” He indicates that he writes “to encourage others to join in this adventure that scripture calls peacemaking. I would particularly urge leaders in the Church community to see peacemaking not as a peripheral activity, but something which is urgent for our times.”


Len notes that IPAN, the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network, is planning a national conference later this month, at which there will be consideration of AUKUS and the current threat of war for Australia, as well as sessions on “building the peace movement: planning collaborative activism”. The details of the programme and registration are at

Continuing the commitment to making peace that Jesus articulated is an integral and important part of Christian discipleship in the contemporary world. May the resolutions of this conference and the networks that it builds contribute to the ongoing work of making peace and forming reconciliation in our fractured world.

See also

“The exercise by men and women of the gifts God bestows upon them”: celebrating women in leadership in the Uniting Church

The National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia has just installed the Rev. Sharon Hollis as President of the Assembly for the next three years (2021–24).

15th President Dr Deidre Palmer and General Secretary Colleen Geyer
pray over the Rev. Sharon Hollis as she is installed as the 16th President

At the same meeting (being held online because of the COVID pandemic), members of the Assembly have elected a female President-Elect, the Rev. Charissa Suli. She will serve as President-Elect for three years, and then take up the position of President in July 2024.

President-Elect, the Rev. Charissa Suli

The UCA employs a system where the current President, the immediate former President, and the President-Elect all serve as ex officio members of the Assembly Standing Committee, the body that oversees the church during the three years in between National Assembly meetings.

For the next three years, the President, the Past President, and the President-Elect will all be females: the Rev. Sharon Hollis, Dr Deidre Palmer, and the Rev. Charissa Suli, respectively. In addition, the current General Secretary of the Assembly is also female: Colleen Geyer. Her term has just been extended by the current Assembly. It is a striking symbol, when considering the national leadership of Christian churches across Australia. All of our key leadership are female.

The symbolism is potent, when Heads of Churches gather: women in such ranks have, to this point, been somewhat rare. The Uniting Church contribution has been, and will continue to be, a reminder, of the importance of providing a female perspective when issues of national social and political importance are being considered. (It’s a message that our national political leadership seems incapable of hearing and implementing—despite the power of the #EnoughIsEnough movement from earlier this year.)

Women in leadership is not an unusual thing for the UCA. To be sure, women have served in leadership roles in a number of denominations. But amongst the historic mainstream denominations, the Uniting Church stands out from Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches, with many more women stepping forward in leadership.

Heads of Churches in 2018:
Melbourne’s Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier,
President of the Uniting Church Dr Deidre Palmer,
and Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop, Anthony Fisher.

The same comparisons can be drawn with Baptist, Church of Christ, and Pentecostal churches over the past half century. (And a number of women in leadership in Pentecostal or other conservative churches have been in married teams, where their role has been “covered” by the “headship” of their husband—partner).

The first Moderator of the NSW Synod was Mrs Lilian Wells (1977–78) and the second Moderator of the Victorian Synod was Mrs Ethel Mitchell (1978–79). The South Australian Synod elected Mrs Elizabeth Finnegan as the sixth Moderator (1987–89) and then the Rev. Margaret Polkinghorne as the tenth Moderator (1995–97) in that Synod. The seventh Moderator of the Tasmanian Synod was Dr Jill Tabart (1984–85). Dr Tabart went on to be elected as the seventh President, serving 1994–97 in that role. She was the first female President.

Top: Moderators Lilian Wells (NSW) and Dr Jill Tabart (Tas)
Bottom: Moderator Elizabeth Finnegan (SA) with husband Paddy;
Presidents Dr Jill Tabart and Dr Deidre Palmer in 2015

This is completely consistent with the affirmation made in the Basis of Union—the document on which the formation of the Uniting Church was based. Paragraph 13 of the Basis, after recognising the existing ministries in the three participating denominations at the time of union, states, “The Uniting Church will thereafter provide for the exercise by men and women of the gifts God bestows upon them, and will order its life in response to God’s call to enter more fully into mission” (para. 13).

This was consistent with the practice of those three earlier denominations, which each had ordained women to serve in ministry: the Congregational Church had ordained Rev Winifred Kiek in 1927; Rev Dr Coralie Ling, a deaconess, became the first woman to be ordained in the Methodist Church in 1969; and Rev Marlene (Polly) Thalheimer was ordained as the first female minister in the Presbyterian Church in 1974. You can read about these women, and more, in a fine article by Rev Dr Avril Hannah-Jones, at

Top left: the Rev. Winifried Kirk.
Top right: the Rev. Coralie Ling, in 1969,
and (below) in 2018.

Indeed, this practice is also consistent with the fundamental theological affirmation made earlier in paragraph 13 of the Basis, declaring that the church “acknowledges with thanksgiving that the one Spirit has endowed the members of Christ’s Church with a diversity of gifts, and that there is no gift without its corresponding service: all ministries have a part in the ministry of Christ.” This, of course, derives from the crystal clear affirmations about the gifting of the Spirit that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 12. The Spirit knows no limits of gender in gracing individuals with gifts for ministry.

And Paul (despite the inaccurate ways in which his letters are portrayed) was completely accepting and affirming of women in ministry leadership as partners with him in the work they were undertaking. See my considerations of this matter at and

So, women in key leadership roles is a practice consistent with scripture and in accord with the central values and practices of the Uniting Church. Along with the women already noted in the opening paragraphs above, a number of the Synods have had female Moderators, Queensland being the last to elect a female in Kaye Ronalds, who was the first female in that role in that Synod, serving 2011–14 (pictured below).

Moderators Denise Liersch (VicTas),
Kaye Ronalds (Qld), and Susy Thomas (WA)

Five years ago, there were four female Moderators around the country: Myung Hwa Park (NSW.ACT, 2014–17), Sharon Hollis (VicTas, 2016–19), Thresi Mauboy Wohangara (Northern Synod, 2015–21), and Sue Ellis (SA, 2016–19) (pictured below).

Moderators Sue Ellis (SA), Sharon Hollis (VicTas)
Myung Hwa Park (NSW.ACT),
and Thresi Mauboy Wohangara (Northern Synod)
in 2016

Currently, there are three female Moderators: Thresi Mauboy Wohangara in the Northern Synod, Denise Liersch in VicTas, and Susy Thomas, in WA.

Whilst the Assembly has elected two lay women to the top leadership role—Dr Jill Tabart (1994–97) and Dr Deidre Palmer (2018–21)—lay female Moderators have been more scarce. In two Synods, lay women were elected as Moderator early in the life of the Uniting Church—in Victoria, Mrs E.A. Mitchell was the second Moderator (1979), whilst in NSW, Lilian Wells was the first Moderator (1977).

NSW subsequently elected Freda Whitlam (1985–86) and Margaret Reeson (2000–02) as Moderators. Tasmania elected Isabel Thomas Dobson (1997–99) and then the VicTas Synod elected her as Moderator for a second term (2009–13). The last Moderator for the Synod of Tasmania, before it joined with Victoria, was Colleen Grieve (2001–02).

Top: Moderators Colleen Grieve (Tas) and Freda Whitlam (NSW)
Bottom: Moderators Margaret Reeson (NSW.ACT)
and Isabel Thomas Dobson (Tas, and then VicTas)

South Australia elected Jan Trengove as Moderator (2001–03) and Dr Deidre Palmer (2013–16). In the Northern Synod, Ros McMillan served as Moderator (1996–2000)—her husband, Stuart McMillan, served as both Moderator (2010–15) and then as President (2015–18). In Western Australia, three lay women have served as Moderator: Beryl Grant (1985–87), Lillian Hadley (1993–95), and Elizabeth Burns (1999–2001).

Top: Moderators Beryl Grant (WA)
and Ros McMillan (Northern Synod)
Bottom: Moderators Jan Trengove (SA)
and Dr Deidre Palmer (SA)

Lay men have served in Western Australia (Ron Wilson, 1977–79, then Robert Watson, 2005–08), Tasmania (Neville Marsh, 1979–80, Dr Peter Gunn, 1991–93, and Don Hall, 1995–97), NSW.ACT (Bruce Irvine, 1989–92, and Jim Mein, 2004–07), Queensland (Dr John Roulston, 1990–91), South Australia (Dr Don Hopgood, 1997–99), and VicTas (Charles Lavender, 1982–83, Alex Kilgour, 1985–86, and Dan Wootton, 2013–16). In South Australia, the current Moderator is layman Bronte Wilson (2019-22).

The Rev. Charissa Suli, a second-generation Australian of Tongan heritage, is the first person of non-Anglo origins to serve in the National leadership role, although some Synods have elected non-Anglos as Moderators: Tongan Jason Kioa in VicTas (2006–09); Chinese Dr Tony Chi (1992–93) and Korean Myung Hwa Park (2014–17) in NSW.ACT. In the Northern Synod, indigenous leader Djiniyini Gondarra served as Moderator (1985–87) and now Thresi Mauboy Wohangara is Moderator. All of these leaders have been ordained people.

Top: Moderator Djiniyini Gondarra (Northern Synod),
President-Elect Charissa Suli.
Bottom: Moderators Myung Hwa Park (NSW.ACT)
and Jason Kioa (VicTas)

And the age of Charissa Suli is striking: she is a “young person” by church reckoning, having been ordained for just seven years, and still being in her thirties. That must surely be something not often seen in church leadership.

Of course, all of this recounting of females in prominent leadership roles hasn’t yet taken into account the numerous females who have served as Chairperson of Presbyteries, Church Councils, and Congregations—to say nothing of the thousands upon thousands of females serving as active members of Congregations and Fellowship Groups and living out their discipleship in community groups right around the country. Females outnumber males within the church by a factor of at least 2:1, so it is way beyond time that our leadership reflects this!

As we look back on 44 years of the Uniting Church, it is clear that we have sought to reflect the affirmations made in the Basis of Union, in undertaking the discernment about who would provide the leadership required in the various councils of the church. It might have looked better if the ratio of male/female, and ordained/lay, and even Anglo/CALD had been more evenly balanced. (The names of other leaders not noted in my survey above were all, like me, ordained males, usually “of mature age”.)

Nevertheless, the array of leadership we can point to provides a sign of our commitment as a church, to be open to the moving of the Spirit. We have seen that in the gifted leadership of Dr Tabart (who signed the Covenant relationship with the United Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress in 1985) and Dr Palmer (who has steered the church through the difficulties of the 2018 decision about marriage, and who has been key to the development of a fine resource on domestic violence in 2021).

May that be what transpires under the leadership of Sharon Hollis, our first ordained female President, and then Charissa Suli, our first Pacific Islander female President.


Confession: I haven’t done an exhaustive search into the names of all the Moderators. Those noted in the blog are those whose names I found in online resources (largely Wikipedia). Not every Synod has provided a full list of Moderators online. If there are other females, or lay people, who should be included amongst those I have noted, please let me know, and I will add them in!


Footnote: a month later, the NSW.ACT Synod elected the Rev. Mata Havea Hiliau as Moderator-Elect, to take office for three years commencing in early 2023. Gender, generational change, and CALD leadership all in one go.


See and

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Looking into the mirror: what does the Uniting Church look like?

This month, the 16th National Assembly meeting of the Uniting Church is being held. Assembly meets every three years, rotating around state capitals. This year, the plan was to meet in Brisbane—but last year the decision was made to meet online.

The papers for the July 2021 meeting of Assembly are available to read online at

Each Synod reports to the Assembly. The report of the Synod of NSW and the ACT includes a section that provides a description of “who we are” as the Uniting Church in this Synod.

That description uses data from the 2016 NCLS results and also a single respondent Census of Congregations (2019) which included an estimate of average worship attendance and an actual headcount.

I thought it was worth extracting this part of the Synod report and hinting it a wider airing. So, when we look into the mirror of these surveys, what do we see? What is the Uniting Church like, right across Australia.

The 2019 Congregational Census reported that the NSW—ACT Synod has 23570 worship attenders each week, including 2896 children under 15 and 2556 youth and young adults aged 15-30. There are 533 local churches oversighted by 375 church councils and 85% of congregations participated in the census.

80% of our churches were monocultural (more than 80% one group), 14% multicultural with one group making up 50-80% and there were 6% of churches where the largest ethnic group made up less than 50% of the population.

In 2019, just 14% of congregations had direct relationship with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, although we know from the 2016 NCLS that 26% of churches conduct an acknowledgement of country in worship.

Just 12 churches had a weekly average of more than 150 people in worship.

31% of churches had no children, 34% had less than 5 children, but there were also 29 congregations had more than 20 children involved in congregational life, 6 of which had more than 50. 40% of churches had no young adults, 30% had less than 5, but 36 congregations had more than 20 young adults and 3 had more than 50.

As reported to the previous Assembly, the 2016 National Church Life Survey (NCLS) surveyed 10,183 adults and 392 children (8 to 14) from 275 local Churches across the Synod. The 2021 NCLS will be conducted in August-September this year.

The average age of UCA members was 66, compared to the average age 38 for the Australian population at the same time. In 2016 70% of NSW-ACT UCA attenders were over 60, compared to 21% of the wider population. 63% of NSW-ACT UCA attenders were women and 37% were men.

That’s who we are, according to these surveys. Ask yourself, as you look into the mirror: do you recognise yourself?

Forty four years on …

After many years of careful conversation, three Protestant churches decided to join to form the Uniting Church in Australia—44 years ago, on 22 June 1977. The rhetoric was “we are a movement, not a denomination”. They were heady days. The new church issued a Statement to the Nation. There was front page newspaper coverage of the opening service of the new church. There was great optimism about what the future held.

44 years down the track, the Uniting Church has developed a clear identity and carved out a distinctive place within Australian society. We have made mistakes, followed some unhelpful paths leading to dead ends, and not always provided good, transparent, informed decisions. But we are human, flawed, striving, hopeful. We press on.

As the Uniting Church, we have a distinctively open and unconstricted theology, faithful to our reformed and catholic heritage, but contextualised to the contemporary Australian situation. We celebrate multicultural and linguistic diversity and exhibit a warm acceptance of LGBTIQ+ people. Across the church there is a clear and strong commitment to social justice, advocating for refugees, working to effect better housing policies, arguing against the excessive gambling addiction in society, decriminalising drug usage, and other issues.

We have a consistent and thoroughgoing commitment to living sustainably, honouring the creation, and working with community organisations devoted to environmental care. We have an enduring covenant with the First Peoples of the land, an openness to ecumenical and interfaith engagements, and a strong commitment to mission in other countries that means working carefully with partner churches and supporting local initiatives.

In each of these areas, we have ideals, goals, visions, and we have dashed hopes, failed enterprises, inadequate realisations. Yet we press on.

We still talk with orthodox, catholic, conservative, evangelical and pentecostal siblings, but don’t feel constrained by their dogmas or traditions, or by what we perceive to be their restrictions and limitations. We seek to set out in fresh directions, following untested pathways, sailing into unchartered waters, knowing that this means pushing the envelope, risking being criticised or unfriended or worse. Sometimes the fresh initiatives work well, sometimes they fail spectacularly. But at least we try—and we press on.

It’s a good place to be! We are appreciated by so many people in society. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the comment, “If I went to church, it would be to a Uniting Church”. Well, it’s OK not to go to church, but it’s great that church folk can work with others in the community on projects of mutual interest, to the benefit of all. “Uniting for the Common Good” has been one of our catchcries in recent years. “Where the wild God is” is the current theme for our consideration—we go where God is already at work.

Earlier this year I had this piece on the identity of the Uniting Church posted to the Assembly website. I thought it was worth reposting today, the 44th anniversary of the formation of the Uniting Church in Australia. See

See also and