16 Jul The Uniting Church says YES!
Last year during the national debate about Marriage Equality in Australia, Richmond Uniting Church Council voted to display posters supporting marriage equality out the front of our church. This decision was made knowing that not all Uniting Church’s shared this view, but out of the deep concern that some Christian churches were claiming to speak for all Christians, as they condemned same gender relationships. This was not our view at Richmond Uniting and we wanted people in the wider community to now that we support, and include, people in the LGBTIQ community.
While Marriage Equality was adopted in civil society in Australia, decision making in the Uniting Church takes time. This is because the Uniting Church has a commitment to seeking to make decisions in council. That is, because we believe that great Spirit is working and speaking through all parts of our church, through ordained ministers, and through lay people; women and men, through local congregations, as well as in our regional, state and national bodies we need to discern together.
In the Uniting Church we do not have a ‘top down’ hierarchy, where decisions are made by a few and imposed on the many. Instead we keep talking, we keep listening together as a whole church, until we reach consensus. I deeply value this way of being church, and from my ongoing research of the earliest Jesus movement, it would seem that this kind of collective openness and attentiveness to great Spirit, comes closest to earliest expressions of church, before the stratification of hierarchies was imposed.
Our Assembly meeting – the National meeting – is held every 3 years and people from right around Australia, lay and ordained, women and men, and people from all kinds cultural contexts, are nominated to attend this meeting and discern together.
Meeting days are long – often 12 hours a day – over 5 days. In this time it is not about seeking to convince other people of your opinion, but the purpose is for all members to seek to remain open and gracious towards one another as they lean in and listen to those who they agree with and those they disagree with – and to listen for Spirit’s movement within the speaking and the silences. Issues that are complex may be discussed and attended to over days and days, interwoven with time for prayer, silence, song and fellowship.
At the most recent Assembly meeting that concluded on Saturday, after this kind of lengthy discerning, the decision was made to affirm ‘two equal and distinct statements of belief on marriage’. This decision will allow Uniting Church ministers who support marriage equality to preside at same-sex marriages and, so shower God’s blessing on those same-sex couples who wish to invite the Divine into their lifelong commitment to one another.
Speaking about this decision, our National President Dr Deidre Palmer stated that Assembly members had ‘modeled a loving Christian community, holding together and caring for each other’ amidst this debate. This is no small thing.
When I announced the Assembly decision at Richmond Uniting in worship yesterday morning people in the congregation broke into spontaneous applause as I was reading. For some, including me, tears of joy flowed as well.
I give thanks to the Holy One – Sacred Three, for the recent Assembly meeting, for the gracious commitment to listening together and making space for different views to be honoured. I am so glad about this decision and to serve within the Uniting Church as we continue to seek to be a pilgrim people; attentive to great Spirit as we follow Jesus, the non-violent, risen One who nourishes us, turns us into friends and calls us to be in radical grace.
Rev Dr Sally Douglas