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Assembly establishes new Ministry of Pastor

In a move which could dramatically change the face of leadership in the Uniting Church in Australia the 11th Assembly voted on Monday to establish a Ministry of Pastor.

Starting in January 2008 this ministry will take in all those who currently would serve as Lay Pastors and Community Ministers and most youth workers.

Pastors will be lay church workers with pastoral oversight of congregations or groups in the Uniting Church and may serve full-time or part-time. Not all will be serving in stipended appointments.

Appointed by Presbyteries, Pastors may serve as lay chaplains, children and family workers, evangelists and community development workers. The ministry will not include people who are appointed by the local congregation such as Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, elders or church office workers.

Presenting the report from the Specified Ministries Task Group Chairperson Ms Colleen Geyer said that the ministry aims to include the growing number of people now serving the church in a range of ministries such as Lay Parish Assistants and Children and Family Ministers.

"We have seen a proliferation of non-specified ministries in the Uniting Church and recognise that this points to the changing face of our emerging church," she said.

"The new ministry is a practical way in which the church can order its lay ministry and creates a flexible environment."

In presenting its report to the Assembly the Specified Ministries Task Group pointed to the Uniting Church Basis of Union which states that types and durations of ministries can vary.

The Assembly was divided on the name for the new ministry but after considering the alternative title of "Lay Minister" agreed to the term "Pastor".

Task Group member Mr Bruce Mullan said the title had currency both in the Uniting Church in Australia, one of the previous denominations and in the wider community.

"The word ‘Pastor’ designates that the person is in a well-ordered relationship to the church which involves training, formation, supervision and support," he said.

Mr Mullan said he believes that within the next decade there may be more Pastors than ordained Ministers serving in the Uniting Church.

The Task Group made no recommendations regarding ordained ministries in the Uniting Church.

The new regulations will mean that no new candidates will be admitted to some existing specified lay ministries after the end of next year.

"There is provision for those currently in placement in the specified ministries of Youth Worker and Lay Pastor to continue under the current arrangements until such time as they cease their continuous ministry with the Uniting Church," Ms Geyer said.

Associate Director of Discipleship Education in Victoria Pam Kerr was sad that the current Lay Pastor Ministry would cease to accept new applicants.

"My main concern is that we lose what has become a very effective ministry in Victoria/Tasmania with people who feel a call to ministry but are usually of an age beyond applying for ordination who are willing to go anywhere, often to remote places that ordained ministers can’t go because of family commitments.

"I would like to think that the new Ministry of Pastor will pick up that sense of commitment, availability to the wider church and solid training," said Ms Kerr.

Some Assembly members expressed doubt about the ability of presbyteries to support and resource the new ministry but Associate Director of the NSW lay education ELM Centre Karyl Davison was more confident.

"I think it’s a positive move for the church and I think that we might find that our presbyteries will have more capacity to do the work that they have to do under this resolution with more ministry agents in a specified relationship to the church."

Pastors will not be expected to have academic theological degrees but will undertake continuous education throughout their service to develop their skills and competencies for ministry.

These competencies will need to meet national standards to be set up over the next 18 months but prior learning will be recognised and a variety of alternative training options will be available.

Lay church workers will cease to be Pastors when they conclude their employment or appointment with the church and, where a presbytery considers it appropriate, they may be given permission to preside at the sacraments of communion and baptism.

"We believe that this new ministry will address the future needs of non-ordained specified ministry in our church in a simple and flexible way that is responsive to the contexts and communities in which we serve," said Ms Geyer.

"It’s about every ministry agent in the Uniting Church in Australia being in a specified relationship with the church."