Giving thanks for the faithful ministry of Stuart McMillan
Written by Bethany Broadstock
The Uniting Church Assembly last week gave thanks for the faithful service, enormous contribution and enduring legacy of Stuart McMillan on his retirement from formal ministry.
Uniting Church President Rev Sharon Hollis paid tribute to Stuart, who in the past 10 years has served the UCA as Moderator of the Northern Synod, President of the Assembly, and for the past three years as Assembly Consultant Covenanting.
“Stuart has a heart for honouring the wisdom of First Nations, listening to and learning from them and for calling the Church to the repentance and restitution for the ongoing wrongs of colonisation,” said Rev Hollis. “His deep spirituality and life of prayer infuses everything he does. I always came away from time with Stuart challenged, strengthened and blessed.”
At an online gathering to thank and farewell Stuart, Assembly staff from across the country spoke warmly of the gentle wisdom, pastoral approach, and deep life of faith that has characterised his leadership.
Many also spoke of his commitment to nurturing personal relationships which has allowed for meaningful collaboration across the Church at key moments.
Reflecting on his national ministry, Stuart said that while collaboration had been an enduring priority for his life’s ministry, he was inspired by the theme for the 40th anniversary of the Uniting Church during his term as President - All of this is us - which shaped the conversation and generated reflection on the oneness of the UCA.
“One of the key things that I've tried to do is build collaboration, and you can’t do that aside from relationships. When we collaborate we are at our best. This means resisting silos and recognising the Spirit can’t do as much with us as when we understand ourselves as part of the whole.”
“We must hold this sense that when we work alongside each other, share together, listen deeply and grow in both faith and perspective, God can do so much more than we can ask or imagine.”
With a personal life and spirituality informed by the lives of Australia’s First Peoples, Stuart has been a vocal advocate for justice for First Peoples and for the UCA’s covenant with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC).
“UAICC has been so blessed by Stuart’s wisdom, thoughtfulness and genuine love and care for all our members,” said Interim Chairperson of the UAICC Rev Mark Kickett. “He brought so much depth into all our conversations and we will miss him dearly. May he be blessed, encouraged and confident that he has been a good and faithful servant of Jesus Christ."
Stuart often reminded the Uniting Church that to be an authentically Australian movement is to place First Peoples at the heart of its being. He constantly reminded the UCA of its commitment to be in Covenant with the UAICC and called the Church to live this out more fully in practical ways.
His leadership was especially valuable as the UCA grappled with sovereignty and treaty in recent years, eventually leading to a 2018 Assembly resolution recognising First Peoples as sovereign. Stuart speaks of this resolution as one of the highlights of the Covenant story in his time.
The other was A Destiny Together in 2014, a movement across the national church for justice for First Peoples which culminated in a public prayer vigil on the lawns of Parliament House.
“We had never called the church to a week of prayer and fasting before,” Stuart reflects. “While hundreds turned up in Canberra, thousands of others across the nation took part because of the injustices faced by First Peoples. That was a really significant moment in the life of our Church.”
“Later, in 2018, we came to a position of recognising First Peoples as sovereign and were no longer restricted by fear but open to truth. That too was an amazing thing.”
Stuart believes that a key aspect of the future shape of the UCA’s commitment to its Covenant with the UAICC is how it becomes real and relevant in local communities. He is looking forward to seeing this grow and emerge through the Living the Covenant Locally initiative that will be launched by the Walking Together as First and Second Peoples Circle.
“I think it’s really critical that we grow a much stronger grassroots movement. Local communities are the authentic places for those relationships to play out and become real in people’s lives.”
Stuart has also continually nurtured and rejoiced in the rich cultural diversity of the Uniting Church. The call he now leaves with the UCA is to live more fully into an intercultural identity, crossing cultural boundaries as we live out a vibrant common faith.
“My hope and my belief is that God is calling us to be truly intercultural, to learn and grow in our faith and to glimpse more of the mystery of God because of what others bring into that space. My own personal journey has been so enriched by this and by the different cultural perspectives I've had the privilege of sitting alongside, listening to and learning from.”
“God has yet so much more to reveal, and we have so much more to learn.”
Read below further written tributes to Stuart from Assembly and Agency leaders.
As I navigated my new role as Assembly General Secretary, Stuart’s collaborative ways of working, experience at all levels of the Uniting Church, and abiding wisdom meant I had a trusted journeying companion. I have been so grateful for his commitment to the Covenant we have with the UAICC and to justice for First Peoples, his presence with people as they shared their stories, and his championing of all Assembly work. I continue to learn so much from him.
Colleen Geyer, Assembly General Secretary
Stuart brought a rich wisdom and experience from across the life of the Church, and especially in relation to the Covenant, that has made a significant contribution to all our work. Stuart has reminded us, as well as setting an example daily, of what it means to walk together as First and Second Peoples in this country. We wish him well in the next stage of his life and ministry.
Rob Floyd, Assembly Associate General Secretary
Throughout our years working alongside each other, Stuart has always offered servant leadership that made you feel uplifted and empowered. His pastoral presence has a lasting impact. He always encouraged our young people and made them feel like they belonged, and had much to offer the church and world.
Rev Charissa Suli, Assembly National Consultant and President-elect
Stuart has been a mentor and a spiritual friend for many Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) leaders across the Church, including myself. We highly value his leadership, humility and openness to accept and learn from others who are different from him.
Rev Dr Apwee Ting, Assembly National Consultant
Thank you, Stuart, for supporting the UnitingCare Australia team with one of our keys strategic priority areas: ‘Justice for First Peoples’. We have appreciated you sharing your expertise and connections and providing leadership and guidance. Your assistance with convening the 2019 Uniting First Peoples Gathering in Canberra was invaluable. We wish you joy and fulfilment in the future, and will miss you.
Claerwen Little, National Director, UnitingCare Australia
Stuart has a way of making space for others. His way of making people feel seen and listened to is a gift that he brings both to international delegations and frantic phone calls. His quiet, gentle wisdom is invaluable, slowing you down and encouraging you to heed the nudging of the Spirit.
Dr Sureka Goringe, National Director, UnitingWorld