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Friday, 07 July 2006

Prayerful activist to be church's next President

Assembly yesterday elected the Rev. Alistair Macrae as its next President.

Mr Macrae, Principal of the Centre for Theology and Ministry, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, will succeed the Rev. Gregor Henderson when the Assembly next meets in 2009.

Thanking members of Assembly for their confidence and asking for their prayers, Mr Macrae outlined his hopes for the Uniting Church.

He said the Assembly had been immersed in the process of discernment about unity and diversity but that “if we are to be truly church, neither can be pursued at the expense of the other. To isolate them is to create idolatry.”

He said diversity in the church could only be meaningfully sustained if the core was strong and it was not true that the Uniting Church was weak on core doctrine.

“We are a creedal and confessional church,” he said. “But unlike some churches, beyond that strong core the areas about which we may — in good faith and good conscience — disagree kick in a bit sooner. And for many of us that freedom for diversity is the oxygen that keeps us in the church and the faith.”

Mr Macrae said the Uniting Church was fundamentally an ecumenical church and a multicultural church. “I believe we have a great gift to offer the wider community if we can model an alternative.

“Our culture patently has few clues about how to progress the reconciliation process. At times it feels like we don’t do much better in the church. But I sense a strong will in the Uniting Church to invest the resources, the prayer, the patience and pragmatism to explore ways to redress historical wrongs and restore justice. Let us not ask others in the public space to do what we do not do ourselves.”

Mr Macrae asked if the church was able to demonstrate in its life that the grace of God was strong enough to transcend all the things that threatened to divide it and he said he hoped it was increasingly becoming a “both-and” church, more than an “either-or” church.

“Not in the sense that anything goes or capitulation to relativism, but recognising that spiritual vitality, oxygen, comes when we hold the great polarities of faith and life in creative tension rather than eliminating one or the other.

“Can we be a church that is grounded in prayer and worship, both activist and contemplative, traditional and contemporary, orthodox and experimental, contextual and universal, which values both personal holiness and social holiness?”

Mr Macrae has been a rural minister at Mt Beauty and at Portland, Victoria. He was minister at Brunswick Uniting Church from 1995 to 2000, when he became Moderator of the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania.

It was as chair of the Uniting Church’s Assembly Task Group on Sexuality, which produced the Interim Report on Sexuality in 1996 and Uniting Sexuality and Faith in 1997, that he first developed a national profile.

Mr Macrae is married to Clare, a writer, and has four teenage children. In his leisure time he is a sport “tragic”, and enjoys music, camping, cooking, reading, renovating and being with his family.