Reflections on the Theological Practices of the Uniting Church in Australia


Meg Ady

About the Author

Meg works as a community health nurse, with homeless youth, in Melbourne’s inner north. She loves conversation, chocolate, laughter, swimming, reading, travelling to distant lands, and cats!


The Uniting Church in Australia was born the year I moved from England to Australia. As a child, I absorbed a lot of language about theology, and read intriguing books from our shelves, and let them form meanings for me. I listened to conversations between my parents and their friends who were studying theology at Cambridge University. I remember the words of William Magambo, whom I have since visited in Uganda, and with whom I still correspond, saying about immersion in academia, “what are they doing to my Jesus?”

Another person from Cambridge with whom I have had the privilege of corresponding, is Charlie Moule. I remember his gentleness, dining together in an English pub, responding to my frustrated questions about suffering and injustice and God with curiosity and interest, and without defensiveness. I think he was a very good advertisement for Christianity, for younger me. He was a very famous theologian and yet was humble and thankful and gracious and funny.

My first encounter with the Uniting Church in Australia was bouncing on a trampoline with Kamia Harris in a neighbouring town to ours on the wild west coast of Tasmania. Our dads were both ministers, mine Anglican, hers Uniting Church, and we were thrown together to do as we pleased whilst the adults talked and ate. Karmia was stubbornly defensive of her Christian faith, and it was something she owned as her own, of which she was proud. This made an impression on me as I was used to other children thinking my parents’ faith and my father’s profession very strange.

My next experience of the Uniting Church in Australia was as a teenager in rural Victoria. Kyabram Uniting Church was considered cool, whereas our church felt quite daggy in comparison. I still have good friends from that Uniting Church youth group. My main memories are conversations on the church bus, and swimming in irrigation channels with youth group friends, and parties and concerts and playing chess with the Uniting Church minister’s son, Chad Aitken.

Much of my life since then has been in other countries. Not too long after moving to Melbourne, Australia, with my husband Benjamin and children Ember and Charlie, Bens googled “emerging church, Melbourne”, and found a group called Café Church who were having a picnic in the botanical gardens. We wandered from group to group, asking if they were Café Church, and were quite surprised at how anti-Church Australians seemed to be. We had been living in Seattle, WA, a liberal city by US standards, but, in our experience, much more accommodating towards strangers mentioning churches. We didn’t find Café Church that day, but soon afterwards befriended its ministers, Anne and Alister, who were very supportive of us as we processed our international move and Australia’s strangeness.

I contributed a short story to a book of writing and drawing and photography Café Church was creating. I loved this practice of honouring people’s creative self-expression. I loved the haunting ancient words and music and imagery incorporated into the monthly Caravan liturgies. One Caravan, there were some new people, who were from the Uniting Church in Australia, officially welcoming Café Church as a part of their whole. We stood and declared, with very decisive language, our determination and desire to take this step. It intrigued and delighted me to be entering into something bigger.

Our raggle-taggle bunch of nomads has morphed into being Northcote Uniting Church, and the week before last, I officially became a member. At the end of the service Matthew Julius was splashing us all with water and speaking about God and water and the Word, beautiful imagery, gentle sprinkling. This looked fun, I joined in, and a water fight ensued, a delightful celebrating of God being accessible to us, as a community, together.

My dear friend Jocelyn Winterton drove me down to the Northcote Uniting Church retreat at the start of last summer. We all had a lovely weekend together, conversing, listening to poetry, writing our own, and wandering off into the sand dunes to pray and reflect. Our room looked out across the entrance of Port Phillip Bay, and when ships came in and out, they loomed close, seeming to be right there with us. Jess Hateley-Browne and I discovered that we share a love of being immersed in water, and both swam in the ocean whenever we could. There was something beautiful and sacramental about this.

Jess invited me to be part of an Act2 focus group on church planting. In the information Cyrus Kung emailed me about this, I found a selection of pieces people have written about theological culture. I read some and was proud to see Matt’s excellent piece amongst them.

I think that one thing growing up in the Anglican Church has taught me—conversing with theologians over dinner at our terrace house in Cambridge, being taught how to make scrambled eggs by the Bishop of Tasmania, becoming friends, in our kitchen, with homeless and mentally unwell people, together eating my mother’s delicious cuisine—is that unfamiliar, countercultural words like theology, doctrine and prophecy all actually mean something.

As a child, I would translate these strange ideas into language which made sense to me. I decided the word “sin” was easier to understand by substituting the word “harm”, harm to self, harm in relationship with other people, and to God. Christ, and his death on the cross, for me, and resurrection, became meaningful as I processed my own story and my pain, knowing that he understands it, having suffered so deeply, cut off from God and shouting “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” as he died on a crucifix.

Alex Sangster was preaching about the deep pain experienced by women in a patriarchal society, about the way girls are mistreated and dismissed, about the feminine wound. I was in the very back of Fairfield Uniting Church, drawn in by the beautiful “Make Poverty History” mosaic I had seen on the outside wall, as I cycled past.

An orange and blue mozaic for "Make Poverty History" is fixed to the red-bricked, exterior wall of Fairfield Uniting Church. A "Vote Yes for the Voice" banner is on the back wall in the background.

Alex and I spoke afterwards as she had noticed me crying in the shadows in response to her sermon. Soon afterwards, I was diagnosed with stage 4 blood cancer and Alex offered to be my spiritual director. In these sessions together, crows cawing loudly outside, I encountered God’s love in an embodied, visceral, healing way. When we spoke of my feminine wound, and people’s dismissal of this, I experienced God as a ball of fire, fiercely surrounding me and protecting me from harm. This practice of spiritual direction, experienced in a dusty little back room at Fairfield Uniting Church, Alex’s voice declaring Christ’s love and grace to me in response to my story, was very transformative for me. The privilege of being a part of Northcote Uniting Church, the body of Christ, is something for which I am very thankful.