According to Facebook, someone else noticed that the inauguration of the Uniting Church in Australia followed the winter solstice – 22 June 1977. I’ve never been able to find documentary evidence, but I just can’t believe that it was a coincidence. Everything about the negotiation and planning for the union of the Australian Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian churches had been meticulous. And the religious significance of the winter solstice is so exquisitely apt for the vision that drove church union that if it wasn’t consciously planned by the organisers, it was surely still no coincidence but an act of God.
In ancient times the Christian church colonised the pagan winter-solstice festival in the northern hemisphere for the celebration of Christmas. We’ve just had the shortest, darkest day of the year. But we know that from this day onwards every other day will be just a little longer and a little brighter until eventually we find ourselves waking up again in the splendour of Spring and the fecundity of Summer. Theologically, it just worked. The shortest, darkest day of the year was an apt metaphor for the incarnation of God in that oh-so-vulnerable newborn baby. Inarticulate, utterly dependant, a homeless refugee – and yet that baby was Emmanuel, God with us, the longed-for Messiah or Christ. You couldn’t have seen it then, but ultimately this person would fulfil the promises of God to Abraham and to the whole creation.
And when the three Australian denominations united, they did so believing that they were “early adoptors” of something much bigger that God was doing with the whole church – breaking down the barriers between denominations, calling time on denominationalism itself, refashioning the church of God as a foretaste, sign and instrument of that reconciliation and renewal that God was bringing to fruition for the whole of creation.
So, on it’s 40th anniversary, why not have another look at the Uniting Church’s Basis of Union through the lens of the winter solstice?
By the way, I’ve written a little reflection for the occasion too.