UnitingWorld began its history in the 19th Century in the work of the Overseas Missions Boards (agencies) of the preceding churches of the Uniting Church in Australia (Presbyterian Church of Australia, Methodist Church of Australasia, and the Congregational Union of Australia). At that time the various Mission Boards began pioneering work in the areas of health and education. In the 20th Century the work undertaken in the area of aid and development began to include vocational training and other work related to the development of communities.
The Uniting Church in Australia (the “Uniting Church”) was formed in 1977 as a union of The Presbyterian Church of Australia, Methodist Church of Australasia and Congregational Union of Australia. At the time of Church Union the organisation responsible for relations and work with the partner churches of the Uniting Church was the Commission for World Mission.
In 1982 the Commission for World Mission applied to the Australian International Development Assistance Bureau to be accepted as an agency that was approved to receive Australian Government funding for overseas development projects.
The involvement with the Australian Government and later membership of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid (“ACFOA”) in 1987, led to a more intentional focus on development projects and improvement of the quality of development and relief work undertaken. In July 2000 the National Assembly meeting of the Uniting Church in Australia approved the establishment of Uniting Church Overseas Aid (“UCOA”) – as a separate aid and development agency of the Uniting Church in Australia. UCOA was effective from 1st July 2000. This was a most significant step as it led to the establishment of a separate agency with its own governing committee. This opened the way for progressive improvement in the quality of the relief and development work undertaken, increased the profile of relief and development work within the life of the Uniting Church and increased the amount of funds raised for relief and development activities. It also allowed the Uniting Church to put in place systems and procedures that more clearly separated relief and development work from other international mission activities.
One of the issues faced was that UCOA related to the same partner churches as did the Uniting International Mission (the national agency responsible for international relations with partner churches and church related programs). The Assembly Standing Committee of the Uniting Church in March 2003 in its desire to maintain the separation of the work of UCOA while maintaining an overall integration of the relationships of the Uniting Church with its partner churches resolved to make UCOA an autonomous division within UIM. The Assembly Standing Committee approved a separate Mandate and appointed a separate National Committee to govern the work of UCOA. Separate financial and other systems were also implemented.
In February 2009 the name Uniting International Mission was changed to UnitingWorld. The work of UCOA was contained in the name of Uniting World Relief and Development under the same mandate and the separate governance of the National Committee. The change of name did not change the structural separation of the Relief and Development Unit from the other areas of work of UnitingWorld.