Reflection on ‘Our Theological Culture’


Dr Wendi Krüger

About the Author

Wendi Krüger is a passionate educator and experienced pastoral care counsellor. She has worked in the education, health, and aged care sectors in a variety of roles. Wendi has qualifications in education, movement and dance, theology, pastoral care and public health, including a Master of Public Health and PhD for her research in dementia. She has just finished writing a book on relationships and dementia, and currently offers online relational support at Connections Matter, specialising in relationships with people living with advancing dementias, and writes spiritual and dementia blogs. With years of experience with the Uniting Church in Australia, Wendi remains essentially non-denominational at heart, and has attended a number of churches.


Over the years I have had a strong interest in the theological culture of the Uniting Church. What it means and how it is practised. The church aspires to unity, compassion, and love, based on the central teachings of Jesus and the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. We say we love God, we say we follow Jesus, and we potentially say, there is a dynamic theological culture in the broader Uniting Church. But what has always interested me is the local level. How is ‘that network of practices, institutions and texts which resource, sustain and extend the Uniting Church’s particular conversations, doctrinal decisions and prophetic speech about God, Christ and the world’ lived each day, each week?1 What does theological culture mean?

I am one of the common people, albeit having studied theology and completed several units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), but I struggle to find a thriving theological culture in some of the local Uniting Churches I’ve attended.

What I find missing is a strong sense of spirituality and spiritual connection. To digress momentarily, I recently ‘participated’ in a service aired on Channel 44 from St Patrick’s Cathedral Melbourne and my response to the sermon on that particular day, was that the officiant brought God into the church. A bit harsh to think that clergy do not always invite or create a sense of ‘Other’ in services.

I am drilling down here into the ‘nitty-gritty’ of theology, to get beyond the words to the essence of faith. Inviting and creating the opportunity to meet the ‘Other’, needs to be more a part of the Uniting Church and our Christian faith and thereby our theological culture. I find Martin Buber helpful here, who says it all in “Ich und Du”, that is “I-Thou”.

Buber describes a relationship that goes beyond doing to being, maintaining that much relating with others is detached, resulting in a lack of connection, that is, relating as I-It.2 Buber proposed that to connect authentically with another goes beyond doing, to seeing the other, and meeting with the other in a reciprocity of I-Thou. I-Thou implies a meeting where there is the potential to meet the divine through an interaction of oneness.

The late Tom Kitwood, known for his work with people living with dementia and person-centred care, describes this well:3

Relating in the I-It mode implies coolness, detachment, instrumentality. It is a way of maintaining a safe distance, of avoiding risks; there is no danger of vulnerabilities being exposed. The I-Thou mode, on the other hand implies going out towards the other; self-disclosure, spontaneity – a journey into uncharted territory. Relationships of the I-It kind can never rise beyond the banal and trivial. Daring to relate to another as Thou may involve anxiety or even suffering, but Buber sees it also as the path to fulfilment and joy. ‘The primary word I-Thou can only be spoken with the whole being. The primary word I-It can never be spoken with the whole being’ (1937:2).

In the meeting of I-Thou, Kitwood saw a manner of relating in Buber’s work that was without agenda, commenting that ‘the word that captures the essence of such meeting is grace.’4

As we delve into new directions for the Uniting Church, we need to fundamentally be looking at relationships and how relationships play out in our local churches. As far as I can see, there needs to be renewed focus on what it means to be in relationship, with God, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit and with each other. Honest, authentic, warts and all relationships. Buber believed that by virtue of the ‘pure relationship’,5 resurrection can come to the world of relationships.6 Buber illuminates this possibility:

By virtue of it the You-world is continuous: the isolated moments of relationships join for a world life of association. By virtue of it the You-world has the power to give form: the spirit can permeate the It-world and change it. By virtue of it we are not abandoned to the alienation of the world and the deactualization of the I, nor are we overpowered by phantoms. Return signifies recognition of the center, turning back to it again. In this essential deed man’s buried power to relate is resurrected, the wave of all relational spheres surges up in a living flood and renews our world.7

In considering the theological culture of the Uniting Church, it seems important that we turn our attention to what it means to invite or create I-Thou moments of oneness. In other words, a spiritual or I-Thou oneness, where the boundaries between the individual and the other, Me and You, are merged and become non-existent. Although much of our relating is of the I-It kind, which is set in time and space, I-Thou relating takes us beyond, to recognise those moments and connections that exist beyond space and time.

So, in reflecting on this topic, surely there needs to be opportunity and occasion where we are led into more moments of ‘otherliness’ as part of our theological culture and practice.


  1. Being the working definition for the term “theological culture” proposed by Act2 in the call for papers, ↩︎
  2. Buber, M. (1970). I and Thou (W. Kaufmann, Trans.). New York: Touchstone. ↩︎
  3. Kitwood, T. (1997a). Dementia reconsidered: The person comes first. Buckingham [England]; Bristol, PA: Open University Press. p.10 ↩︎
  4. Ibid. p.11 ↩︎
  5. Buber. Op.cit. p. 148 ↩︎
  6. I refer to the 1970 Walter Kaufman translation as it is considered more accurate than the 1937 version, which Kitwood cites. Unfortunately, Kaufmann translates ‘Thou’ as ‘You’ which affects the sentiment. As Kitwood notes (1997), the reference ‘Thou’, is almost absent in society, but the Thou to which Buber refers, is the Thou of intimacy and sacredness; to substitute ‘You’ for ‘Thou’ loses some of the significance of the relationship. In referring to another as ‘Thou’, is different to the recognition of another as ‘You’. ↩︎
  7. Buber Op.cit. p.149  ↩︎