Unity College, Caloundra West is an ecumenical college opened in 2006, owned and administered by Brisbane Catholic Education with local pastoral governance in partnership between the Catholic and Uniting Churches. Unity College offers education in a Christian context, but with a difference. With the foresight and vision of Fr John Dobson (Parish Priest of Caloundra Catholic Parish) to establish an ecumenical college, members from the Catholic, Uniting, Anglican and Lutheran Churches met to discuss future possibilities for such a school within the local Caloundra precinct.
However, after much deliberation only the two participating Catholic and Uniting Churches continued with involvement on the Steering Committee for four years before Unity College's official opening in January 2006. It was a new journey along an ecumenical path for both local Church traditions, but an extremely insightful and rewarding one, as all members came to a renewed understanding and appreciation of each other's denomination and expression of faith.
Mr Rudy Goosem was appointed Foundation Principal, and in consultation with the Steering Committee and local pastors, Fr John Dobson and Reverend Brian Gilbert developed the Educational Brief and several policies, forming the basis of the new College's operation.
The College has grown rapidly from 130 in that first year with students from initial cohorts of Prep to Year 4 and Year 8 to over 1450 in 2021. So how is it 'different'? The College has developed policies and practices relating to the teaching of religion and the religious life of the school in collaboration with each of the participating churches, keeping in mind ecumenical principles. The three key ecumenical principles that underpin the philosophy and culture of the College include: dialogue in practice; inclusive processes and solidarity of purpose and are at the heart of all College strategic priorities.
While emphasis is given to content that the participating churches hold in common, the differences are respected and included in teaching sequences, so as to provide students with a greater knowledge of sacramental and devotional beliefs and practices within both the Catholic and Uniting Churches' traditions.
A feature of this partnership is the continuing commitment by the parishes to the pastoral and liturgical life of the College, with strong attendance and involvement at liturgical rites and social justice activities. In addition to the religious life of the college, The Caloundra Catholic Parish and the Caloundra Uniting Church have a commitment to pastoral involvement in the ecumenical P-12 College community. Some members of the College Board are members of the church communities and provide a focus for information sharing from the College to the respective churches. Clergy from both participating churches along with the Principal, Head of College Identity and Formation P-12 and Assistant Principal Religious Education meet regularly to discuss issues surrounding the pastoral, theological and community involvement of the churches and the way in which this interacts at college level.
Ongoing dialogue between these participating denominations, with ecumenism as its key theme, is evidenced in its commitment to both educating and challenging the staff, who in turn educate and challenge the students. In January 2010, Mr David Hutton, the Executive Director of Brisbane Catholic Education, Rev. Brian Gilbert, Father John Dobson, and Rev Dr Robert Bos addressed the entire College staff delivering a powerful message about the
principles on which the College operates. David Hutton articulated that, “working for Christian unity is a non-negotiable aspect of being a Christian." He further identified some of the issues confronting such ecumenical institutions and challenged us to grapple with them, pointing out that 'unity' does not require 'uniformity' and doctrinal agreement is not essential for us to be able to work together. He emphasised the importance of being together in community and to share reflectively in order to move forward in unity.
Caloundra Uniting Church minister, Rev. Brian Gilbert spoke on a published paper, 'A Catholic–Uniting Church dialogue on the mission of the Church, which highlighted for staff the commonalities and differences between the two denominations. His use of two models to express contrasting metaphors of operation were powerful, ostensibly focusing on the variances between church doctrine and structures developed throughout the centuries for evangelising and sustaining those beliefs. Reverend Gilbert challenged staff not only to be cognisant of the diversity, but to draw from an authentic willingness to journey together towards the unity Christ desired for all. Acceptance of difference and a readiness to leave the restrictions of the past behind was the common theme from both pastors on the day.
So, day by day at Unity College, the staff and students are engaged in sharing this ecumenical experience through daily prayer and contemplation, whole college and class liturgies, high quality Religious Education classes, faith formation and social justice opportunities. As the Brisbane Archdiocesan document published on 'Ecumenical Schools: A Roman Catholic Perspective' attests dialogue among those Christian traditions in an ecumenical context develops greater understanding and mutuality among the churches and gives expression to the shared vision and mission in proclaiming the Gospel.