“We are committed to upholding the Bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God written in its original form,” says the “mission plan” of a Uniting Church (UCA) in the Lake Macquarie region near Newcastle, NSW.
Whether or not that statement is within the bounds of the UCA will be tested by the response of the Hunter Presbytery (regional committee) as Booragul Evangelical Uniting Church submits its plan. The Hunter Presbytery has asked local churches (called “congregations” in the UCA) to submit 20-year “mission and strategic plans” for the regional body to review.
The Hunter Presbytery was recently the subject of a review by a mission consultant itself. The review delivered a blunt message: “If nothing else changes, the Uniting Church will be half the size it is today within twenty years. The Hunter has an average age of 75. This puts it in a more precarious situation than the rest of the Synod [NSW and ACT]. It has really come to a point where you need to act now or die.”
Cameron Eccleston, a Mission Facilitation Consultant for the UCA, suggested that the Hunter pursue a regionalisation plan “I believe congregations can be placed into three categories, Regional Congregations, Fresh Expressions of churches and legacy churches (those that won’t change and will eventually die).”
This is the background to Hunter region UCA congregations being asked to articulate their 20-year plans.
The Booragul folk say in their plan they want to focus on “on maintaining and growing an evangelical and theologically orthodox Protestant house of worship and Christian inspired activity that provides a spiritually safe home base for Bible-believing evangelicals.”
They set out a plan to be a destination church attracting UCA members sympathetic to evangelicalism, but also others who might want to associate with them. They suggest setting up an independent church meeting alonside their UCA congregation.
Booragul includes traditional marriage in their core values. They point to UCA’s Generate Presbytery in South Australia as a group of churches whose statement of faith says they “Hold the position that marriage is the covenantal relationship of one man and one woman.” In South Australia, the UCA has set up it’s presbytery structure to aloow conservative and progressive churches to be networked. Instead of geography, groups of churches are based on theology.
The possibility of NSW/ACT forming non-geographic structures is raised in the plan – suggesting that a nationwide process in the UCA known as ACT2 might bring in that change.
The Booragul plan says they will network with The Gospel Coalition Australia, the Propel Network (A group of evangelical UCA churches), the conservative Anglican Diocese of the Southern Cross and a join the “newly formed CCUCA Incorporated, a support body or network for Confessing Congregations within the Uniting Church in Australia.”
There are some strongly-worded statements in the Booragul plan. For example “We strongly condemn the apostasy of the Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia since 2008, including the adoption of the dual integrities concepts regarding same-sex marriage (which we regard as sin) and corrupting the biblical understanding of marriage as a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman, forsaking all others, and symbolic of the relationship between Christ and his Bride, the Church.”
The use of the word “Apostasy” used to decribe the UCA featured in the complaints against Hedley Fihaki, whose ministry credentials were removed by the Queensland UCA, and his Mooloolaba, Sunshine Coast church dissoled. the congrgation have joined Fihaki in the Diocese of the Southern Cross.
The Booragul congregation and the Hunter Presbytery, which reflects the mainstream of the Uniting Church, do not see eye-to-eye. Whether Booragul and the leaders of the Hunter can stay in the same church will be determined later this year