A Personal Reflection on Our Theological Culture


Anne Muirhead

About the Author

In 2023, Anne Muirhead found a home within the Uniting Church in Australia, pivoted from leadership in education to pastoral care in an outer city hospital and farewelled her 100 year old mum. Her faith and felt experience have affirmed that loss leads to new life.


My filters

I have been aligned-in-curiosity with the Uniting Church since April 2023, having been welcomed into the community of Richmond Uniting Church. I am an urban dweller on unceded land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. I live in an extended family ‘commune’, that has for more than the past decade provided care to three elderly parents. Our family is strongly connected to fellow human beings who celebrate their neurodiversity. I am Anglo-Celtic—a ‘lost Catholic’—with a background in mission leadership in girls’ education—having recently pivoted to a role as spiritual/pastoral care practitioner at Werribee Mercy Hospital.

My intention

I hope to trace the way in which I have been shaped by the theological culture—the living Word—of the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) across the past 3 months.

My experience of our Church’s theological culture

My introduction to the Uniting Church has been through the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, under Centre Director, David Dawes. I would like to honour the place of CPE in the Uniting Church’s theological culture and formation processes and the gift of CPE to the wider realm of spiritual formation in our Australian context. CPE so suited my way of learning and would have to be the most integrative learning experience I’ve undertaken (and I’ve had many opportunities to learn about and deepen my faith).

Here my lived experience dialogued with the blessed and broken realities of patients, carers, family members, staff, interns, supervisors, my faith tradition, our land and the divine. Here I was challenged to shape theological insights from an incredibly broad range of experiences, relationships and influences. My final CPE panel of five comprised two UCA ministers who helped me identify the movement of the Spirit of God across my CPE experience—discerning consolation, providing challenge, affirming strengths and encouraging life-affirming ongoing professional practice. In response to the latter, I am blessed to continue to work with Lauren Mosso as a professional supervisor. I can’t think of a better way to ‘do theology.’

I joined Richmond Uniting Church mid-Lent this year partly in response to my CPE experience. Here I found a community that also attended to the head, heart and hands. Here I found a community that models the way of Jesus: welcoming, inclusive, disruptive, discerning, fragile—where the stranger is welcomed, the hungry fed, those imprisoned freed, the sick loved and the lonely ministered to and with. Through Lent we shared texts and music that are meaningful to us, we pray with the Sunday readings each Wednesday online at noon, we break bread together, we donate food to the local food bank, we support water resourcing and theological education of women in the Pacific, we share musical talent, we share presiding, another group reflects together each Thursday evening.

Our minister, Sally Douglas, models pastoral leadership that engages our intellects, hearts and whole bodies. Silence, shared reflection, conversations after worship build upon strands and themes explored in worship. We engage with written texts from Scripture, hymnody and bespoke liturgical material produced for our local context. I am always left both consoled and uncomfortable by Sally’s preaching, and her weekly newsletter provides invitations for further theological reflection via suggested music, podcasts, webinars, books, lectures etc. We are encouraged to connect with the wider UCA experience via Crosslight, responses to the Voice to Parliament, the Palm Sunday rally and other local and national awareness raising campaigns and gatherings.

I would like to turn my attention to the role of online resources/social media in UCA’s theological culture. I’m actually not a big fan of social media, however, as a newcomer to UCA I have been incredibly enriched by UCA’s online presence. I loved the Uniting in Prayer project, which coloured my morning commute to work. As I travelled by train at dawn, I welcomed the ping of each new prayer. I felt connected to a living body, praying together with fresh texts—now in praise, now in lament, now in despair, now in hope. I enjoyed linking up with UCA women from Echuca and Brisbane in the national prayer chain link-up.

I have also learnt about prayer, and been invited into quite intimate conversations about prayer, on the Dwelling podcast, and have my understanding of sacred texts deepened in a really accessible conversational weekly interaction on By the well. I was profoundly moved by the interview with UCA member, Naomi Boulton in Geneva at the end of her internship at the World Council of Churches assembly, providing me with such hope for an organisation/church where leaders of Naomi’s calibre are called forth, affirmed and supported. The humility with which Naomi used a text from the Uluru statement in this international context was totally inspired.

The Uniting in Prayer project also provided me with an icon for the future (see below)—Beth walking with her daughter and dog on beautiful Wiradjuri country with an expansive background—this image provided me with days of theological reflection—what does this image say about the divine, about women as leaders, about the church in Oz, about our relationship to/with/for the land, about immediacy/horizons, about my own longings:

Rev Beth Donnelly offering a video prayer while walking on Wiradjuri Country for Uniting in Prayer.

Honouring the visual as text has also animated my faith in recent months—another strength of UCA’s theological culture. The cover of Richmond’s weekly printed worship guides and the initial PowerPoint slide from St Michael’s Sunday Worship (Melbourne CBD) are savoured regularly as material for prayer and promptings of my spirit.

“Our Church does invitation so well. This says something very strongly about our theology.”

UCA does invitation so well—this says something very strongly about your theology. As a newbie, I have contributed to the Act2 Report and marvelled at the quick turn-around to its dissemination with a range of ongoing reflective processes. Via social media I have felt connected to and prayed for/with gatherings of Indigenous, Korean, Tongan and younger sisters and brothers, and learnt so much about different congregations via images, reports on events, celebrations etc. I love hearing different voices on social media chats … affirmation to disagreement, and everything in between.

Probably my most favourite and theologically enriching online session was the recent Yarn for Yes. Again, I met incredible people who spoke from their heart and head, while placing their bodies on the line to further God’s reign here and now. The format of the evening provided God with so much space to do God’s work—through, in my case, tears and awe and bone-shaking anger at injustice and awareness of my own complicity in ongoing oppression and flickers of hope. The What the Voice means to me series has also helped me clarify and consolidate my response in faith to God’s invitation to the people of this land at this time.

Since April I have:

  • attended a screening and conversation about the powerful film—Women Talking—auspiced by Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theology (led out of Pilgrim Theological College);
  • read Sally Douglas and Robyn Whitaker’s recently published books;
  • utilised UCA online prayer resources in my workplace;

… and I plan/hope to audit a unit on the New Testament at Pilgrim Theological College across Semester 2 to keep my brain alive and my heart pumping! This all feels like theological engagement to me!

I may have a broad understanding of theological culture, however, this breadth is a UCA gift! I am not a holy Joe, but a very ordinary person looking for a theological context in which to flourish. As well as becoming aware of UCA in the past three months, my mum has died, family life and relationships present ongoing delight and challenge and I have started a new job. The resources—human and otherwise—alluded to in this reflection have provided me with a gracious scaffold within and on which to ponder the deeper mysteries of the divine.

I have enough life experience to know that all human organisations are fabulous and flawed and fragile. I guess I just want to affirm the rich variety of invitations UCA offers to seekers to learn about, befriend and love God and God’s creation … and, to then grapple with one’s response to this mysterious invitation.