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WHEN CHURCHES JOIN - 6. General Documents

Local Ecumenism Information Kit
- Developed by the Local Ecumenism Working Group, NSW Ecumenical Council, October 2000
Phone (02) 9299 2215 for more information.

[Back to Contents of Local Ecumenism Information Kit]

Appendix 2. Understanding the Member Churches of the NSW Ecumenical Council

The Anglican Church of Australia
The Congregational Federation of NSW
The Oriental Churches
Assyrian Church of the East
The Eastern Orthodox Churches
The Mar Thoma Church
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
The Salvation Army
The Roman Catholic Church
The Uniting Church in Australia

 

 

 

 


2.2 The Congregational Federation of NSW

The Congregational Federation of Australia was formed in July 1995 and, at its inaugural Assembly, resolved to seek affiliation with the National Council of Churches in Australia, and, through its NSW Federation, to seek affiliation with the NSW Ecumenical Council.

Nationally, the Federation is comprised of fourteen congregations in New South Wales and Queensland, has sixteen ordained ministers and numbers some two thousand members and adherents, many of them Samoans. The numbers are fairly evenly divided between the two states. The Federation has been admitted to membership of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches; its Queensland congregations, which form the Congregational Federation of Queensland, belong to the Queensland Churches Together; and since May 1997, the Congregational Federation of NSW has been a member of the NSW Ecumenical Council. The Federation has also established a partnership with the Congregational Union of New Zealand, and membership of the Pacific Regional Council of the Council for World Mission.

Anglo-Saxon parts of the Federation trace their origins to the former Congregational Union of Australia, but in 1977 opted not to accompany their co-denominationalists into the Uniting Church. In fact, fewer than 40 of some 300 Congregational Churches resolved at that time to continue in the Congregational Way. The continuing Congregationalists gailiered themselves into what was called the Fellowship of Congregational Churches, a conservative grouping, which generally does not enter into ecumenical contacts. The anti-ecumenical ethos of that grouping eventually sparked moves to form the Congregational Federation of Australia, which basically is committed to maintaining the faith and order of classical Congregationalism, while being desirous of developing ecumenical links.

That desire is expressed in its own Constitution. where the commitment is made "to participate in the ecumenical movement and to provide a means of liaison and contact with the relevant courts and conferences of other denominations and particularly through membership of [ecumenical councils]" and "to cooperate and engage in joint work with other Christian bodies wherever possible".

Modern Congregationalism traces its beginnings to the 16th century Reformation, but its antecedents are clear and diverse, grounded in the conviction that its essence is implicit in the New Testament and is evident throughout the ages. In England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I a number of keen Protestants separated from the Church of England. But it was the age of the Commonwealth (1649-60) that became the classic age of Congregational doctrine. It was during this period that the great works of the two most eminent Congregational theologians (Thomas Goodwin and John Owen) came to be written. In the early 18th century the outstanding Congregational minister was Isaac Watts, a scholar, poet and pioneer hymn writer. During that century the evangelical revival associated with John Wesley and George Whitefield and the Methodists had its repercussions within the Congregational churches. Whitefield, a Calvinist and greater preacher than Wesley, was not a great organiser, so many of his congregations became independent and in time joined the Congregationalists. In 1832 the Congregational Union of England and Wales was established to form a permanent means of cooperation between the Independent Churches. These Congregationalists were enabled to associate more closely and campaign more effectively for the removal of civil disabilities in the 19th century.

In 1795, Congregationalists took the lead in founding the London Missionary Society, and it was missionaries sent by that Society who brought Congregationalism to Australia. From 1798, they led regular worship services in Sydney, Parramatta and elsewhere, but there was no permanent establishment. In 1828 a new cause commenced in Sydney with the first permanent Church gathered in Pitt Street in 1832. Thereafter, churches were gathered in all the colonies.

The history of Congregationalism does not show an unbroken record of growth in numbers and in influence. History does reveal a story of sacrifice and martyrdom amidst persecution. It shows the spontaneous emergence of a Congregational and independent essence in the gathering together of men and women for Christian worship, free from external control yet free to follow the Holy Spirit. This form of witness has rarely appealed to the majority, but has proved, and continues to prove, remarkably resilient, lively and orthodox in doctrine.

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