12th Assembly 2009

New President calls for an end to 'Demonic preoccupation with survival'

The Rev. Alistair Macrae BA, BTh, MPhil (Ecum), was officially installed as the 12th President of the Uniting Church in Australia on July 15 at the moving opening ceremony of the 12th Triennial Assembly, which took place at the Clancy Auditorium, University of New South Wales.

Christians from every state of the nation, the countries of partner churches and guests from other faiths gathered to witness the opening of the Assembly and the installation of the new President.

The opening ceremony kicked off with the Gathering of the People of God, led by the Rev. Rronang Garrawurra with Mr Howard Amery translating.

In a poignant speech before screened images of dry cracked land and pools of water, Mr Garrawurra spoke about two sources of water in his country of Elcho Island in the Northern Territory — ordinary water and sacred water that only old people with knowledge have permission to access.

He asked those present to ponder the blessing and significance of the different kinds of water — ordinary and sacred —given by the creator and to remember their responsibility to care for the land, encouraging Assembly members to reflect on provision of that water in a dry place, its blessing and their responsibility to care for the land.

In a ceremony that included outgoing President, the Rev. Gregor Henderson and the Rev. Terence Corkin, National Assembly General Secretary, Mr Macrae answered questions about his calling and commitment to the presidency before being accepted by those gathered on behalf of the church and its friends.

A rousing chorus sang as Mr Macrae knelt with closed eyes before Mr Henderson presented symbols, first leading Mr Macrae to the signing of the Assembly Bible, then handing over the presidential cross and scarf. Mr Macrae was then declared installed to hearty applause, followed by a rocking song of praise.

During the Relinquishing of the Pastoral Relationship Mr Macrae thanked Mr Henderson and released him from his duties. A song of blessing and well wishes was then sung before an emotional Mr Henderson mouthed the words “thank you” to the audience before leaving the stage.

Beginning his sermon, Mr Macrae joked about the Uniting Church term “installation”, saying he felt like a cross between a tap and an electric light bulb.

He preached on the Assembly theme, Living Water, Thirsty Land and the story of Jesus meeting the woman from Samaria at the well in John 4:5-30 and 39-41.

In addition to saying the woman had much to teach the church about evangelism, he drew four themes from the story: the fragile bounty of creation, the imperative for the church to be a fundamentally inclusive community, the importance of truth-telling, and a focus on faith sharing.

Referring to the racial and gender divide crossed in the meeting at the well, Mr Macrae said the encounter challenged the church to overcome its own divisions.

He spoke of the inspiration for the Living Water Thirsty Land theme and called on the church to leave the “demonic preoccupation with survival” behind and “risk everything” to rejoice and share, with humility, in the sacred water of Jesus Christ.

Mr Macrae, who lives in Melbourne with his wife, Clare, and three of his four children, aged between 22 and 15, has previously served as Moderator of the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania and Executive Director for the Centre for Theology and Ministry.

The newly-appointed President will begin his three-year term by chairing the seven-day Assembly meeting, where significant decisions about the direction of the church over the coming years will be made.

A self-described homebody who enjoys Aussie Rules, running, cooking, building, reading and music, Mr Macrae says he is looking forward to travelling and meeting new people in his role as President, observing that the action-packed lifestyle of presidency promises to be “interesting and exciting”.

Describing his vision for the church, Mr Macrae has also said that the Living Water Thirsty Land metaphor is not about making a declaration of influence but rather identifying new ways in which the Uniting Church might contribute to ensure that Australian Christians “reclaim a voice and a life-giving presence in the public sphere”.