Statement to the Nation

By Rev Elizabeth Raine

Slide 1: Statement to the Nation 01 JULY 1977

In a few days time it will be the 46th birthday of the Uniting church in Australia. At the time, it was certainly a risky and brave adventure, combining three denominations to make one uniquely Australian church. It seemed to me that the journey of the Uniting church reflected our readings this week – like Abraham, this church stepped out in faith on a journey where a lot was unknown but also where faith in God committed people to the journey. Like the disciples in Matthew, this church sought to go into the communities surrounding them with the good news to make the world a better place.

Slide 2: At the time of the UCA inauguration, a statement was issued to all of the Australian nation, unsurprisingly called the “Statement to the nation.” How many of you know it exists? Have read it? Know what’s in it?

After 46 years, sometimes we need to be reminded of the vision of the Uniting Church in Australia, and to recognise that witnessing to this vision is still vital and attainable. This vision called the church to act with love, live with hope, witness in faith, and work for justice. 

Today as we celebrate the UCA’s birthday, we are going to read this statement as I think it is one of the greatest and most enlightened documents ever produced by a church.

People of the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches have united. A new church has been born.

We, who are members of the first Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia address the people of Australia in this historic moment. The path to unity has been long and at times difficult, but we believe this unity is a sign of the reconciliation we seek for the whole human race.

We acknowledge with gratitude that the churches from which we have come have contributed in various ways to the life and development of this nation. A Christian responsibility to society has always been regarded as fundamental to the mission of the Church. In the Uniting Church our response to the Christian gospel will continue to involve us in social and national affairs.

We are conscious of our responsibilities within and beyond this country. We particularly acknowledge our responsibilities as one branch of the Christian church within the region of South-East Asia and the Pacific. In these contexts we make certain affirmations at the time of our inauguration.

Slide 3: We affirm our eagerness to uphold basic Christian values and principles, such as the importance of every human being, the need for integrity in public life, the proclamation of truth and justice, the rights for each citizen to participate in decision-making in the community, religious liberty and personal dignity, and a concern for the welfare of the whole human race.

Slide 4: Our Assembly General Secretary, Collen Geyer has stated that every time [she] read[s] these words, she “feel[s] proud that, as a church, we had the guts to say these things, were courageous enough to set the bar high, and wanted there to be no doubt about what Australia could expect of us. Read these words and you will know how we’re intending to be true to who we are. Our unity, which is a sign of the reconciliation we seek for the whole human race, will look like this.”

What a wonderful aim for a church, to be an entity that embodies basic Christian values and principles, the importance of every human being, integrity in public life, truth and justice, democracy for all, religious freedom and personal dignity, and a concern for the welfare of the whole human race. Have we lived up to this? What do we need to do to make sure we do?

Slide 5: We pledge ourselves to seek the correction of injustices wherever they occur. We will work for the eradication of poverty and racism within our society and beyond. We affirm the rights of all people to equal educational opportunities, adequate health care, freedom of speech, employment or dignity in unemployment if work is not available. We will oppose all forms of discrimination which infringe basic rights and freedoms.

Did we realise as a church how extraordinary these words were? Did we understand what we were saying? These words tell of the great courage it took to make this announcement and embark on this journey of faith and justice. And since that time, we have seen that courage played out in the 46 years since Union as the Uniting church continues to stand with the voiceless, the marginalised and the poor, and continue to be activists for climate change reform. The Statement to the Nation commits us to acting in ways that are often considered political.

Slide 6: We can see that such activities are built into the DNA in this church, yet sometimes we hesitate in implementing them. We lack the confidence in our homegrown models of mission and in ourselves. We can baulk at stepping out on new journeys. We have more trouble engaging around faith with our communities in an increasingly secular world. We shy away from being ‘political’ forgetting that Jesus also stood with the voiceless, the marginalised and the poor and was incredibly political.

Slide 7: We will challenge values which emphasise acquisitiveness and greed in disregard of the needs of others and which encourage a higher standard of living for the privileged in the face of the daily widening gap between the rich and poor.

Slide 8: In many churches, Western culture has created a culture of consumerism that permeates our congregations. Faith dwindles to “what’s in it for me” rather than homothumadon, discerning the common good. This leads to a reduced willingness to engage beyond the immediate and ourselves and look at ways in which various parts of the church can partner with others around us or how we can become the church of the future, a church still relevant, vital and life-giving not only to ourselves, but to the communities around us.

Slide 9: We are concerned with the basic human rights of future generations and will urge the wise use of energy, the protection of the environment and the replenishment of the earth’s resources for their use and enjoyment.

Slide 10: This small but direct statement let Australia know that as a church we weren’t just focused on the here and now but that we aim to be a future-focused church. We don’t want just to make a difference for the generations now, but we want to implement actions now that are “concerned with the basic human rights of future generations”. God’s love and commitment to humanity is not limited by time, space or matter and nor should ours be. This whole statement calls us to look now to identify injustices and at how we can influence change for the better and have improved outcomes for the future. It also acknowledges the impact of our actions for the future, particularly on our environment, God’s good creation that we are meant to be stewards of. Climate Change is a looming threat to most life on the planet, loss of biodiversity and loss of species are accelerating. This statement calls us into action now to prevent what may well be a very bleak future.

Slide 11: Finally we affirm that the first allegiance of Christians is God, under whose judgment the policies and actions of all nations must pass. We realise that sometimes this allegiance may bring us into conflict with the rulers of our day.

But our Uniting Church, as an institution within the nation, must constantly stress the universal values which must find expression in national policies if humanity is to survive.

Slide 12: We’re clear about who we belong to – “the first allegiance of Christians is God”.  As the Uniting Church, this is our foundation. It defines who we are and why we speak and act the way we do. Because of this belonging, we acknowledge that this may mean we could come into “conflict with the rulers of our day”, not because we want it, but because we will be speaking out for “the universal values which must find expression in national policies if humanity is to survive.” This isn’t a statement that holds back, and we should be proud of it as it leads us to live in the way of Jesus.

Slide 13: We pledge ourselves to hope and work for a nation whose goals are not guided by self-interest alone, but by concern for the welfare of all persons everywhere — the family of the One God — the God made known in Jesus of Nazareth the One who gave His life for others.

In the spirit of His self-giving love we seek to go forward.

Slide 14: We pledge ourselves to hope…” Can you think of anything better to pledge yourself to? Because of this hope, we pledge ourselves to work for our nation – a strong commitment which calls us to action. Our work however, is for a nation “whose goals are not guided by self-interest alone”. Everything that has come prior to this in the statement has been about being God’s church for others. Here, “all persons everywhere” are identified as “the family of the One God, through Jesus who “gave His life for others”. In this statement, we are called to be part of the work of God’s church in Australia.

Today, how can we be more purposeful and intentional about how we achieve this vision? This is a question to ponder. We could start by reclaiming this statement, and being deliberate in our efforts to live into it.

As the Uniting Church, we can’t make these commitments and then be silent. Our voice has had to be loud and strong at points of justice, fairness and what is best for the common good. At times our voice has had to be a lone voice, a voice that isn’t popular, even amongst our own members and among other Christians. I suggest this should remind you of someone, who also wasn’t popular within his own religion and who voice often howled across the wilderness of the white noise of religious self-interest and disregard for how others were treated, and championed the notion that the future kingdom embodied a place of justice and equity for all.

The Statement to the Nation draws us back to our foundations. It reminds us that like Abraham and the disciples, we too are sent by God in the now to prepare the future for all. To help us in this quest, I am closing with a prayer by the Rev. Dorothy McRae-McMahon.

Slide 15: Gracious God,
we believe in the wonder of life in you.
In every moment, we know that
you call us on towards creativity and hope,
never giving up on us, your church.

Christ Jesus, we celebrate
that you have journeyed with us
over these last 46 years together,
never leaving us alone in our humanness
and inviting us towards
fullness of life together.

Holy Spirit of Wisdom,
we believe that you will be discovered
in unexpected places around us,
your shining life emerging before us
and inspiring us to believe
that we can share in your power
to change the world
towards your goodness and grace.
This we believe, O God. Amen.

(Source: Dorothy McRae-McMahon, slightly adapted from a prayer for the WCC 70th anniversary)

Photo of Rev Elizabeth Raine

Written by Rev Elizabeth Raine

Elizabeth was minister at Tuggeranong Uniting, between 2018 and 2023. Elizabeth retired in December 2023 and has moved to Dungog in the Hunter valley, with her husband Rev Dr John Squires.

Over the years, Elizabeth has had a number of diverse and interesting placements, such as a school chaplaincy, a tenancy worker with UnitingCare, a congregational minister, a lecturer at UTC, a Presbytery minister, and as an Intentional Interim minister. 

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