Whole church walks out in gay marriage row
AN ENTIRE congregation has abandoned its church after the country voted to legalise same-sex marriage and the Uniting Church followed suit.
About 90 per cent of the members of the St George Uniting Church, including the minister, have deserted the congregation over the past 12 months to start their own conservative sect in response to the church's decision to allow individual ministers and celebrants the option to marry same-sex couples.
Uniting Church's head reverend David Baker said an attempt was made to keep the small southwest congregation, mostly made of families and farmers, together before they split off to form their own church.
"They had started talking among themselves about what they would do, together. As a group, about 90 per cent of them decided that they would leave and form a new Christian community," Rev Baker said.
"We tried to open up the doors of conversation with them, and seek to help them find a way to stay but that hasn't worked, so they made that decision.
"I know the decision they made to leave the church is because the Uniting Church have decided to respond to same-sex orientated people."
The federal electorate of the Maranoa, in which St George is part of, has long been a stronghold of conservative values.
In the 2017 same sex marriage plebiscite, Maranoa recorded a no vote of 56.1 per cent. Across the nation's 150 electorates, only 17 recorded a no majority.
The Australian Uniting Church formed in 1977, absorbing most congregations of the Methodist Church of Australasia, two thirds of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, and almost all churches of the Congregational Union of Australia.
The division the same-sex marriage debate has caused within the Methodist-turned-Uniting faith has resulted in the upheaval of families who have attended the St George church for generations.
"I'd say we have some third-generation people in our congregation," he said.
The Uniting Church is yet to decide on how they will continue serving the remaining parishioners.
However, Rev Baker is determined to keep the ministry going.
Rev Baker said he had spent a lot of 2019 engaging with believers across Queensland, helping them work through the national assembly's same-sex marriage decision.
"Most people can see that this is a way of letting people live in a way that is true to themselves, and share their life with someone," he said.
He reinforced the Uniting Church's definition of marriage, and that it was open to same-sex couples.
"Our view of marriage says it's between two people who promise, in covenant, to love each other for the whole of their lives," he said.
"Some people go good, this is common sense, and this has allowed us to have a sense of being able to recognise same sex orientated people as members of the life of the church, loved by God, like all the rest of us.
"A lot of people share in that, but we're still a church that has a traditional view on marriage, and there have been some concerned with the decision our Church made."
Despite the decimation of the St George congregation, Rev Baker is committed to continue serving the parishioners who stayed.
"We honour their decision to recognise that they want to stay a part of the life of the Uniting Church, one who seeks to live the way of Jesus and show his love to all," he said.
"We're going to work to support them."