Meet Rev Andrew Gunton, who was named moderator-elect at the 34th Queensland Synod and will be inducted as moderator next year at the 35th Synod. Dianne Jensen reports.
Moderator-Elect Rev Andrew Gunton is already a familiar face to Uniting Church members in regional and south east Queensland. Since his ordination in 2002 Andrew has served in ministerial placements in Rockhampton South, Arana Hills and Oxley-Darra (his current placement) and as Presbytery Minister at Moreton Rivers Presbytery and Interim Associate General Secretary of the Queensland Synod.
He is currently Chair of the Bremer Brisbane Presbytery, a member of the Bremer Brisbane Presbytery Pastoral Relations Committee, and a board member of the Queensland Community Alliance.
Formed in faith
“My family were always very much part of the church, and one of my earliest memories of the church is at union,” says Andrew, who was seven when the foundational denominations came together to form the Uniting Church in Australia in 1977. “We were living in Toowoomba at the time and they had a big celebration at Toowoomba Grammar School. Kids from all different churches were to form the Uniting Church symbol on the oval, and I was part of the dove.”
Andrew’s first career choice was science (botany), and it was only after a six-month back-packing holiday in Europe that he began to feel restless. He began a postgraduate Diploma of Philosophy at the University of Queensland, and it was while delving into this secular zone that he discovered a call to ministry.
“I had a sense that I was looking for something. It was in the middle of looking at this post modernity stuff, from Nietzsche right through, that I really had a sense of God’s voice saying—Andrew, I wanted you to see that there’s something so much bigger than your Sunday school ideas—and I had this strong sense of call.”
Andrew spent the next two years working in administration at Indooroopilly Uniting Church, where the Brisbane Presbytery was based at the time, gaining wisdom from ministers such as Rev Ray Hunt, Rev Paul Walton and Rev Paul Jensen.
1998 was a big year, as Andrew candidated for ministry and married his wife Lyndelle. The family have two teenage children, Ellie and Ben.
Andrew began studying at Trinity Theological College (now Trinity College Queensland), where the couple spent a year as houseparents at Raymont College, and was ordained at the end of 2002.
Taking off the blinkers
From his experience in congregational and presbytery ministry and in the Synod office, Andrew believes that churches are realistic about the diverse challenges they face.
“In my experience, they see it most keenly in the loss of youth and young people, children … Sunday Schools. Once upon a time there was no sport on a Sunday, now all the kids who come to our churches have these conflicting and competing interests. Oxley church is right across the road from a shopping centre and I remind people that even ten years ago there were no shops open on a Sunday, and now every Sunday those shops open at 9am, the same time we start worship.
“A whole lot has changed in our society, so how do we get that same energy and enthusiasm and participation in a society that’s very different, and how do we maintain the church in those spaces?”
An appetite for change
Andrew is excited about the potential of Project Plenty, the Queensland Synod’s whole-of-church mission initiative which was launched at 34th Synod this year.
“I think there is an appetite from many congregations who are looking for hope from the wider church, with ideas and strategies to come and help them, and they would embrace that. It’s about that hopefulness that God has for us as God’s people.
“And for me, leadership has got to give practical examples of how we can do things a little differently to how they were done, to encourage our congregations to remember it wasn’t so much about how big the Sunday School was, it was about the enthusiasm and the excitement about participating and belonging, and how we might find that space in this very different world.”
Connecting with community
Andrew’s current involvement on the Board of the Queensland Community Alliance reflects his passion for helping congregations re-connect with community life.
“I see this as a real way that congregations can engage in their local community and get back to some grass roots stuff—seeing what people in your community are actually concerned about, and how as a church we can work with those people. It’s not about the church doing everything—but being part of something in our communities.”