The Church Union Decision
THE General Assembly of Australia, in 1945, accepted the principle of Church Union (by 141 votes to 54) in the following terms:— "That the Assembly agree to enter into Federal Union with the Methodist and Congregational Churches on terms to be agreed on by the three Churches."
"That the Assembly affirm Federal Union as a step toward Corporate Union:"
A joint committee of the Churches proceeded to prepare an elaborate plan, involving central and regional councils and departmental boards, which it was proposed should be considered by State-wide conventions consisting of all members of Assemblies and Conferences of the three Churches.
This plan was unfavourably received by State Assemblies and the Christian Unity Committee came back to this 1948 Assembly asking for a further mandate and suggesting that the G.A.A. decisions of 1945 should be referred "to the Communicant Members of the Church throughout Australia for their judgment."
Any motion of this* kind debated by an Assembly becomes not merely one of procedure but one of the pros and cons of Church Union. The Moderator (greatly to the surprise of members) had already in his inaugural. address given his opinion. He had said:—
"Here is a word spoken directly to our condition in this Assembly. We are sharply divided on the question of the way to Christian unity. So sharp are our divisions, that, to press forward along the line of organic union or even of federal union, would mean serious disruption in bur own Church. It would be wrong of us to do so. The cause of unity cannot be truly served, by creating so serious disunity. When the tides of the Spirit throughout the Presbyterian world are set in the direction of healing past disruptions, let us not be guilty of moving against those tides by creating another disruption. This will be a very deep regret to some of you; a very great relief to others. I beseech you, on the one hand, let not your regret be touched with the faintest tinge of recrimination; and, on the other hand, let not your relief be touched with the faintest tinge of the rejoicing that lords it over another. We are brothers in Christ. We must know unity amid our own diversities if we are to serve unity in any larger field."
The Committee's motion for referring the matter to all Communicant Members was moved by Rev. C. T. F. Goy and supported by some leading N.S.W. men, including Rev. A. C. Grieve, Rev. John Hunter, Mr. Bryan Fuller. They maintained that having put our hand to the plough we must keep faith; that as we preach that the Gospel of Christ as the one hope of bringing the nations of the world together we should demonstrate its power by showing that it can bring Christian Churches together; that the work being done in N.S.W. in the United Theological Hall and in Youth Departments was a sample of the right approach; that South India and other younger churches are setting us an .example; that to consult oar membership is sound democratic precedure. A member said: "I hate the idea of Church Union. I don't want it but I feel bound to vote for it because I believe God wants it."
On the other side, Rev. Wallace Archer and Mr. M. Bradshaw led quite an imposing array of capable speakers, mainly from Victoria and Queensland, who maintained that the call of our tune is to strengthen the witness of our own Presbyterian Churches in this and other lands while we come closer to our fellow-Christians in the wide fellowship of the World Council of Churches; that the taking of a referendum of our membership is contrary to Presbyterian tradition and practice; that it will cause bitterness and disruption throughout the Church and get us nowhere.
It is strange that in any debate on Church Union each side is convinced that it represents the point of view of the ordinary Church member and each feels that the other side is supported mainly by sincere, well meaning, but, of course, misguided ministers. It should be said that at this Assembly the discussion was at a high level and all speakers were very considerate and courteous to those who had the misfortune to differ from them.
When the vote was taken the Christian Unity Committee's motion was carried by 135 to 83. So a vote of all Communicant Members will be taken. They will be supplied with a statement in favour of Federal Union prepared by Rev. C. T. F. Goy and Rev. E. H. Vines and a statement against it prepared by Rev. Wallace Archer and Mr. M. Bradshaw. All arrangements for the ballot are in the hands of the Code Committee.
Other Assembly Decisions
The PETITION from our Church in Western Australia was received by the N.S.W. Assembly in May, seeking union with the Church in New South Wales. A precedent had been established by the union between the strong Church of Victoria and the weaker ones in Tasmania and South Australia. But West Australia was not prepared to go as far as these Churches. It wanted to retain a much greater measure of autonomy while yet obtaining the support in men and money that a rather vague link with a stronger State might give. A representative committee, presided over by the Right Rev. A. M. Stevenson, had carefully examined the proposals and now reported to the G.A.A. that they were impracticable.
Anxious to do something helpful, the committee suggested that a Commissioner should be appointed as a link between the two States. He would examine the position in Western Australia, make recommendations, and try to be generally useful. For want of anything better, this recommendation seemed likely to pass, when Rev. J. Gray Robertson, Chairman of the A.I.M. Board, in a robust speech bristling with facts, declared it to be in effect both expensive and futile. Far more effective help could be given at far less cost
 by referring the whole matter to the CCC.—The Commonwealth Co-ordinating Committee, which has already gained some knowledge of West Australian problems and rendered some useful services. So this was done. ,
Mr. Calwell's work as Minister for Immigration received cordial appreciation from those with first-hand knowledge. The Assembly recorded its approval of the Federal Government's schemes for Free and Assisted Immigration and if the arrangements made for the reception of migrants. Rev. J. P. Chalinor, the convener of the Immigration Committee, assured the House that the allegations that Roman Catholic applicants had been given undue preference were not true. A few ships had had a preponderance of R.C's, but on the whole far more Protestants were receiving passages.
On the White Australia Policy the Assembly resolved to "Indicate to the Federal Government that, in the interests of friendship with our, northern neighbours in particular, and in the interests of a fuller expression of the spirit of Christian brotherhood, it is the considered opinion of this Assembly that the time has arrived for some re-statement of the Australian immigration policy, and that our immigration restriction should be based on something other than A colour distinction. It is recognised by this Assembly that some degree of restriction of immigration is necessary. The economic conditions of this country do not permit the absorption of such numbers as would represent any permanent or appreciable relief to the over-populated countries of Eastern Asia. This being so Australia should make it clear to the world that her immigration restriction is valid, not oh racial, but on economic ground's."
The importance of the professional work of women in the Church .is being more and more widely recognised and deaconesses are making an increasingly valuable contribution. The Assembly of 1945 "affirmed the principle that the standards of training and status of women workers in the Church should be uniform throughout Australia." It appointed a committee, with Rev, E. H. McLean Shugg as convener, to go into the whole matter.
This Assembly determined to officially "create the office of deaconess, which shall be recognised throughout the Commonwealth" and prescribed a uniform course of three years' training (two years for University graduates) and the "setting apart" of deaconesses by Presbyteries.
The wider questions of the eligibility of women to be ordained as ministers and elders or to receive (whether ordained or not) the right to speak and vote in Church Courts came before the house. Rev. Robert Swanton, a conservative bachelor minister from Victoria, tried to reverse the decision of last Assembly and have women declared ineligible for ordination as ministers or elders. His motion, however, was defeated by a large majority and the whole matter was referred back to the Code Committee to enquire further from State Assemblies and Presbyteries.
Professor McIntyre's very able report on Christian Social Order (22 pages of the White Book) with its "Analysis of the Social Problem, including reference to Communism," was very cordially received by the Assembly, which took the quite unusual step of having it sent down to Presbyteries and Session?. So this thought-provoking document will be broadcast throughout the land.
The Iona Community came up for some criticism from Rev. T. P. McEvoy, who, however, received very little support in the House which resolved to "Give its blessing to the newly-formed Australian group of the Iona Community."
Rev. Victor Coombes received an ovation on the confirmation of his appointment as General Secretary of the Board of Missions. The marathon report of the Board (40 pages) was so thoroughly prepared that its consideration by the House took a relatively short time and brought no surprises. The Board of. Religious Education put through some notable changes in organisation without a word of comment from the House, but were involved in a long wrangle over the shorter catechism... A report appears on another page.
Proposals that a special Jubilee Session of the G.A.A, should be held in July, 1951, either in Canberra or in Sydney (where the first Assembly was held) were rejected. It was decided that the jubilee will be marked by "suitable celebrations in the State capital cities."
A pedestrian Assembly closed after very busy final days. The next G.A.A. is appointed to meet in Melbourne in September, 1951.