From Rev Dr John Squires
Presbytery Minister - Wellbeing
Over the last two weekends, I have taken part in two joyful services of worship, where hope and anticipation were clearly on display. One of the key themes on what I experienced, was the way that within the Uniting Church, we value our diverse gifts and celebrate them in various forms of ministry.
On the last Sunday in February, I shared in the Induction of the Rev. Andrew Jago to his ministry placement at North Belconnen. A full church, appropriately spaced to meet social distancing requirements, joined in the celebrations. Andrew was ordained at the end of last year, and is now in his first placement within this Presbytery.
On the first Sunday in March, I took part in the Commissioning of Pastor Jules Wright as Children and Families Pastor in the Wesley Forrest Congregation. Jules joins the Rev. Dr Sarah Agnew, minister in placement for the past few years, and the Rev. Dr Geoff Dornan, recently-inducted minister alongside Sarah, to form the ministry team at Wesley. Once again, a full church (socially-distanced) shared in that occasion.
It was really good to have Joanna Drayton sharing in that part of the service. Joanna is the Ministry of Pastor Consultant within Uniting Mission and Education in the Synod, and shared with me in the process of assessment required before the Commissioning of Jules.
The roles that Andrew and Jules are undertaking—Minister of the Word (MOW) and Pastor—are two of the four specified ministries that we have in the Uniting Church. For the past two decades, we have recognised four specified ministries. Alongside MOW and Pastor, there are the ministries of Deacon and Lay Preacher.
Both MOW and Deacon are ordained ministries—that is to say, a person entering one of these ministries becomes a part of the “ordering” of the whole church. These ministries have specific functions and responsibilities within the whole people of God. (These are set out in Regulation 2.2.)
People in these ministries are “set apart” by ordination for what is expected to be a lifetime of service in the church. They are authorised to exercise ministry across the church, and are expected to be available to a call to placement in any place across the church throughout their active ministries.
By contrast, both Lay Preacher and Pastor are comissioned lay ministries—ministries exercised by people who continue as members of the people of God, exercising their ministry in the focussed way that is set out in their commissioning for these specific tasks.
Pastor is a ministry which is accredited for the place in which the ministry is exercised—it is not “transferable” across location. The other three specified ministries are considered to be “for life”, and they can be exercised anywhere across the Uniting Church—although when such a minister is “out of place”, in an area where another minister is in placement, it is good practice to confer with that minister or their Church Council before accepting a ministry role there.
No other denomination has quite this structure for ministry roles. Why does the Uniting Church have this complex and unique arrangement of ministry positions? In my thinking, it links with paragraph 13 of the Basis of Union, where a set of words clearly values all forms of ministry: “every member of the Church is engaged to confess the faith of Christ crucified and risen ... the one Spirit has endowed the members of the Church with a diversity of gifts ... all ministries have a part in the ministry of Christ”.
Especially important in this paragraph is the way that the Basis values and appreciates the ministries exercised by lay people. Every one of us is a minister! That is a very strong affirmation.
One way that the valuing of lay people in ministry is signalled in our church, struck me very clearly over the last two Sundays. The Questions that were formally put to Andrew, at his Induction, and Jules, at her Commissioning, were parallel to each other, reflecting the seriousness with which the Church views any form of specified ministry.
Those Questions canvass matters of faith, the use of the Bible, participation in the wider church, adherence to the Basis of Union, relationship with our First Peoples, acceptance of the discipline of the church, and a commitment to show love and compassion in service.
I deeply appreciate and greatly value the way that our Church honours and supports the ministry of every person—be they dedicated volunteer, commissioned lay leader, or ordained minister. May this be our continuing gift to the wider church!
Rev Dr John Squires
Canberra Region Presbytery
Uniting Church in Australia
0408 024 642
blogs on ‘An Informed Faith’