Church told, ‘we are closing you down’ by Uniting Church

Booragul Uniting

Booragul Uniting Church, an evangelical congregation, has been told it will be dissolved by the local Uniting Church in Australia Presbytery (regional committee). The Presbytery decided last night to close the church as of December 31, 2023.

Booragul is small, like many churches, serving a small community at the top end of Lake Macquarie on the southern fringe of Newcastle. It was a member of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations (AAC), an evangelical group in the Uniting Church that wound up earlier this year.

The church building at 28 First Street will be sold. Existing tenants, Samoan Seventh Day Adventists and a Food Pantry will be allowed to operate for a period of time.

Closing Booragul church follows a recommendation from the Life and Witness Consultation Committee examining the future of local churches. The committee report lists several conclusions by a Presbytery Pastoral Relations Committee, including:
• “[that the committee] has long struggled with Booragul’s leadership’s resistance to agreed norms of Uniting Church values and behaviour;
• “doubts the capacity of the Booragul congregation to meet the basic functions of worship,
witness, service and governance of a congregation;” and
• “has concerns over an individual member whose ‘leadership’ calls into question the values of the church and affects the well-being of members and officers of the Presbytery.”

A response to the consultation by the Booragul membership said that they believe there should be room for them as an evangelical church in the UCA that supports traditional man-woman marriage. “The so-called defiance of the UCA seems to be primarily an inference to our adoption of a different one of the ‘two integrities’ established by Assembly in relation to marriage, to the one adopted by Presbytery.  We understand that until now, each congregation was permitted to adopt either or both of the ‘integrities’. Booragul should not be targeted for not adopting the one preferred by Presbytery or by the Consultation Team leader.”

Booragul is a small church, with an attendance of 14 on a typical Sunday, and is lay-led and self-funding. But if it closes, one key ministry will certainly be missed by the community. Booragul Uniting operates a local food pantry used by 60 local families. The Other Cheek understands that it is not unusual for a UCA congregation to be that size.

The Booragul members say in their response, “The membership has until now possessed sufficient numbers, capacities, gifts and graces to lead an effective congregation and to comply with reporting requirements.”  

Prominent member churches and ministers in the former ACC, like Lulu Senituli and Hedley Fihaki, have moved with their congregations into the Diocese of the Southern Cross, a body set up to serve Anglicans wanting to leave a progressive diocese (region).

One strong possibility is that the congregation at Booragul will follow them and join the Diocese of the Southern Cross. They already have a legal body with a trading name, Booragul Evangelical Christian Church – which meets the requirement that churches seeking to join the Diocese Southern Cross need to have a legal structure. There are also some evangelical congregations they could join in the Newcastle Anglican Diocese despite its progressive reputation, and local Presbyterians are not far away in Cardiff.