The Uniting Church is organised not by a hierarchy, but by groups of women and men, lay and ordained, consulting together, usually making decisions by consensus, in each area of the church’s life.
The church is committed to being a series of inter-related councils — local churches, regional presbyteries, state synods, and the national Assembly. Each council has its distinct tasks, and each council recognises the limits of its responsibilities in relation to other councils. Hierarchy occurs when a group decides it knows what is best and has the power to impress that decision on others. The Uniting Church is committed to a more shared process … and realises the need to keep working at it.
Uniting Church congregations throughout the country are caring communities to which all people can belong. There are around 2,500 congregations with 243,000 members and adherents. A congregation may have hundreds of members or be a tiny community of a dozen people. They can be found deep in the heart of our cities, or in our most isolated and outback towns.
Congregations have many faces. There are older people and young, families and single people, people of one culture or many. At least forty different languages are used in worship in the Uniting Church each week.
There are congregations that have existed for many years and new and very different ones – café style churches, groups that find it better to worship on Wednesdays than Sundays, or who minister across a region rather than a local area.
While our congregations can be vastly different, each aims to embrace all people and unite them with each other and with God. This is expressed in part in our having an open table for Holy Communion to which all baptised people are invited, welcoming children for baptism and being willing to marry those who are divorced.
Our congregations are communities in which people seek to follow Jesus, learn about God, share their faith, care for each other, serve the local community and seek to live faithfully and with real joy. This is the kind of engaging church to which we belong.
A presbytery is a council of the Uniting Church which has oversight of congregations, ministry and programs within a region. The Uniting Church in Australia’s presbyteries have responsibility for oversight of the church’s life and work in their region, especially for the settlement of ministers; establishment, amalgamation and disbanding of congregations; mission strategy; and support of congregational life.
A presbytery is the council to which ministers of the word and deacons are responsible. It has the duty of caring for them and ensuring their work is carried out faithfully. Presbytery meetings include ordained ministers, lay pastors and elected lay persons from every congregation.
A synod is the state council of the Uniting Church. The word ‘synod’ also describes the annual meeting of representatives of the state-wide Uniting Church.
Six synods of the Uniting Church in Australia are responsible for overall support and resourcing of the church in their area — especially in community services, mission planning, theological education and other educational services, administration relating to ministers and to property, financial services. The elected head of each synod is the Moderator, and a General Secretary is usually appointed as the chief executive officer.
The Assembly is national council of the Church, headed by the President of the Uniting Church, with a General Secretary as chief executive officer.