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St Maryís and St Michaelís

By Alan Austin - posted Monday, 9 March 2009

Brisbane's Catholic Archbishop John Bathersby and Victoria’s Uniting Church Moderator Jason Kioa are facing strikingly similar challenges. Their responses could hardly be more different.

As has been reported, St Mary's Catholic Church, South Brisbane, has broken from Catholic tradition with irregular liturgical practices and defiance of church authority.

Senior minister at St Michael’s Uniting Church in Melbourne’s CBD Francis Macnab last year launched a media campaign to promote an unorthodox “new faith”.


Among the dot points in Dr Macnab’s September 16 media release were:

  • “If we reinterpret the Scriptures properly, the physical resurrection of Jesus is something that was concocted years after the event;” and
  • “Most [churches] are still propagating a fiction [that] the Christmas and Easter stories are literally true, which they are not”.

Dr Macnab’s campaign included huge banners along Melbourne freeways declaring “The Ten Commandments. The most negative document ever written.”

He stated publicly that “Abraham is probably a concoction, Moses was a mass murderer and Jesus just a Jewish peasant who certainly was not God.”

Several Uniting Church members complained to the Moderator about the heresy. Others were upset that the $120,000 media campaign was launched without telling anyone in the synod.

These churches - St Mary’s in Brisbane and St Michael’s in Melbourne - have much in common. Both have Sunday gatherings well-attended by people of all faiths and none. Both engage in effective social action.


Both use innovative liturgies drawing on eastern mysticism, new age and other philosophies.

Both have critics who can point to official statements of faith and practice which are being ignored. Both attract spies who report back to the hierarchy.

Both are media and tech savvy and interact via websites with passionate supporters and detractors.

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About the Author

Alan Austin is an Australian freelance journalist currently based in NÓmes in the South of France. His special interests are overseas development, Indigenous affairs and the interface between the religious communities and secular government. As a freelance writer, Alan has worked for many media outlets over the years and been published in most Australian newspapers. He worked for eight years with ABC Radio and Televisionís religious broadcasts unit and seven years with World Vision. His most recent part-time appointment was with the Uniting Church magazine Crosslight.

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