Moving ahead with Diversity: National Retreat 1999

Fifty-nine leaders of the Uniting Church met at the Holy Cross Retreat Centre, Templestowe, Victoria, over the four days of 18-21 November 1999.

People came from all over Australia from Hobart and Perth, from Port Hedland and Coffs Harbour, from Adelaide and Toowoomba, from Darwin and Wangaratta, from Sydney and Melbourne. A cross-section of the church was present including members of Evangelical Members within the Uniting Church, members of Uniting Network, people from migrant-ethnic congregations, Presbytery office-bearers, all seven Moderators of Synods, and Assembly officers and senior staff. Members of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress were unable to be present but expressed their best wishes for the Retreat. The National Retreat followed three diversity retreats held in synods in July-August (NSW, WA, Vic/Tas). The focus in all four retreats was on how the Uniting Church can best move forward when the debate on sexuality has exposed diverse views within the church on the Bible, theology, and the nature of the church. Priority at the National Retreat was given to two activities:

  • worship and prayer, with much celebration of our faith in Christ, and Holy Communion each morning;
  • small group life, where participants shared deeply with each other, discussed the Biblical and theological presentations, and considered ways forward for the Assembly and for the whole church.

On the Friday, presentations were made on the Bible and homosexuality by Rev Dr Peter Ralphs, Rev Dr Gwenda Ince and Mrs Isabel Thomas Dobson. On the Saturday presentations were made on what it means for the Uniting Church to be part of the "one holy catholic and apostolic church" by Rev Dr Brian Edgar, Rev Dr Keith Rowe and Rev Dr Sarah Mitchell. Other presentations were made on dealing with conflict and on the three synod retreats. The National Retreat was an intense experience for all participants. The depth of inter-personal encounter, the solid Biblical and theological discussion, and the struggling with ways forward for the church left participants feeling exhausted but upheld by Christian care for each other.


As the small groups grappled to find a way forward for the Assembly and for the whole church, they twice reported to plenary sessions. The eventual outcome was to reach tentative acceptance of possible proposals to be considered by the Assembly. The acceptance of these possible proposals was not unanimous, but resulted from strong commitment by participants to finding a way forward for the church. Over the next months further reflection shall take place on the possible ways forward, including consideration of presenting three alternative sets of proposals to the Ninth Assembly. All of these are offered by Retreat participants as a contribution towards the church’s seeking of the will of God.

  1. Recognition that our unity is centred in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
  2. Recognition that because we are bound together by Christ and we love the Uniting Church we will keep working on the issues of diversity and sexuality.
  3. Reaffirmation by the 2000 Assembly of the 1997 Assembly decisions on marriage.
  4. Recognition that we are unable to agree at this time on the interpretation of Scripture on the matter of homosexuality.
  5. That we reject all forms of vilification and harassment and seek effective ways of dealing with it.
  6. (a) That all people are welcome at the Lord’s Table, regardless of their sexuality, and as members of the Uniting Church are eligible to exercise their rights and responsibilities in accordance with Basis of Union paragraph 13. OR (b) That all people are welcome at the Lord’s Table.
  7. Note that within the ordained ministry of the Uniting Church there are men and women in same-sex relationships, whose gifts for ministry have been discerned and affirmed, and affirm that no action be taken against them in relation to their homosexuality.
  8. That the church now consider that a Congregation’s decision to call or not to call a minister may not be over-ruled by the Presbytery solely on the grounds of the minister’s homosexuality or views on sexuality.
  9. Affirm the Presbytery’s right to assess candidates for ministry individually.
  10. (a) That Presbyteries not make general statements of policy about ordination in relation to homosexuality. (b) That Synods not make general statements of policy about ordination in relation to homosexuality.  

In the final session a Continuation Group was appointed to finalise the Retreat Statement, to receive comments from participants and others by mid-February, and to prepare material for the Assembly Standing Committee in March 2000. Members of the continuation group are Judy Caldwell (NSW), Bev Fabb (WA), James Haire (Assembly), Mary Hawkes (SA), Gregor Henderson (Assembly), John Mavor (Assembly), Inoke Nabulivou (NSW), Ray Reddicliffe (Qld), Isabel Thomas Dobson (Tas) and Leonie Walker (Vic).   Participants in the National Retreat pray that their worship, faith sharing, deep discussion and hard work will bear fruit for the whole church, and they invite all church members to join with them in seeking to discern God’s way forward.

1 December 1999

Copies of the papers on the Bible and on the one holy catholic and apostolic church are available on request from the Assembly Secretariat.

This statement may be copied for use in the Uniting Church, on condition that the statement is copied in its entirety.