12th Assembly 2009

Andrew Dutney elected Uniting Church’s next President

The 12th triennial Assembly of the Uniting Church has elected the Rev. Dr Andrew Dutney as its next President.

Dr Dutney is Principal of the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology in Adelaide and Associate Professor in the School of Theology at Flinders University.

He will take office in 2012 and succeed the newly-installed President the Rev. Alistair Macrae.

After the ballot was announced during the afternoon session of the Assembly meeting on July 18, Mr Macrae guided Dr Dutney to the stage to respond to a standing ovation. The President-elect said, “This is terrifying.”

Dr Dutney then told the Sydney Assembly that when, as a bad tempered teenager at 15 he reluctantly accepted the truth of the gospel and committed his life to following Jesus, he “didn’t know about this bit”.

He said his journey of faith had taken him to many places he didn’t anticipate and had provided him with many opportunities to share Christ’s love.

He said he had been conscious of God’s unwavering love regardless of where he was.

He recalled waiting to meet his wife in an Adelaide market and, in seeing her approaching, reliving key moments of their life together, good and bad, and realising how much he loved her.

It then occurred to him it was the same with God’s love. “We are to God all the people we are in the one moment — our best and our worst.”

In the Uniting Church, he said, there had been moments when he had been proud and others when he had been disappointed.

“But I have always known that God still loves us.”

That was not a reason for complacency, he said, but to be brave when new things turned up.

Dr Dutney is well-known to the South Australian public as a media commentator on religion, ethics, spirituality and society. He is widely published in theology and ethics, and has been a leading interpreter of the history and theology of the Uniting Church.

He has been a key reformer of ministerial and lay education in the Synod of South Australia — reshaping curricula, staffing and governance around a vision for the development of effective missional leaders, lay and ordained.

From 1996 until 2006 he was the chairperson of the South Australian Council on Reproductive Technology, the statutory body which advises the health minister on regulating South Australian reproductive medicine units.

He was the foundation Director of the Centre for Theology, Science and Culture, a joint activity of Flinders University and the Adelaide College of Divinity.

Asked to name three things he was passionate about for his profile in the Assembly’s ballot documents, Dr Dutney listed: providing a vision of the Basis of Union in a way that energizes people to action, contributing an explicitly Christian point of view to public discussions of the issues of the day, and mentoring church members as they discern and respond to God’s call to ministry.

Asked about his vision for the church, he said, “Reconciliation is what we’re all about. So we must be a church that transgresses and transcends whatever fractures and divides our world.

“It means being a church with a passion for and practical commitment to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

“It means being passionate about sharing the message of God’s love for the world, confident that the gospel still has the power to heal and transform broken lives and societies.

“It means being a multi-generational, multi-ethnic, cross-cultural network of congregations and agencies with genuine relationships with people on the edges of Australian society and with Christian communities in Asia, the Pacific and Africa.

“It means working harder at enabling the participation and leadership of women in the church.”

Dr Dutney said he saw the Uniting Church’s vitality coming from the health of its congregations — a diversity of local communities of reconciliation.

“I’m one who really believes that the local church is the hope of the world,” he said. “For the local church is a sign, foretaste and instrument of reconciliation and renewal … for the whole creation. It’s a beachhead of the kingdom of God.”

“I see it as a priority to help the Uniting Church become more confident about outreach and witness, and developing forms of evangelism that are consistent with our vision.”

See photos from Dr Dutney's speech