At this crucial time in the life of Australia’s churches and one of the key questions to be answered is how to use ministerial resources to help the Uniting Church best carry out its Mission.
Next year, members of the 11th Assembly will be asked to consider making significant changes to how the church orders its work through the specified ministries on the recommendations of a Task Group formed following the 10th Assembly.
The group has just released an Options Paper containing three models for improving the way specified ministries are organised. This paper is now available for the consideration of congregations and presbyteries. Responses, which are due by January 31 will help shape the final report and proposals to be taken to the 11th Assembly.
Task Group Chair, Colleen Geyer, said the Options Paper, which is the result of more than 18 months of consultations, presents three clear models to shape the specified ministries of the Uniting Church.
“The paper brings together the substance of the various consultations that have been held and presents three options. Each option recognises the important theological and doctrinal positions of the church while also acknowledging the practical realities of ministry and the struggles we have when missional work does not fit within the current specified ministries,” she said.
The Options Paper focuses on simplifying the different categories of specified ministries and enabling greater flexibility, while ensuring the centrality of the eucharist for Uniting Church congregations. It acknowledges the importance of baptism and membership as central to ministry, and also considers training for ministry, ordination, practice, supervision, continuing education and lay ministry.
“It was clear from the responses we received during consultations that we needed to simplify the specified ministries and offer congregations more flexibility to develop local ministries. Not every congregation is able to afford or have access to an ordained Minister of the Word or Deacon, and more and more congregations rely on lay ministry teams or other forms of specified ministries to fulfill their needs,” Colleen said.
“In this context it’s important that we have specifications of ministry that support congregations and their mission, and at the same time recognise the place of the Uniting Church and its ministry within the church universal.”
All three options presented in the paper recognise the need for generally ordained Ministers of the Word and Deacon as we have now, and employ a new category, ‘Church Worker’ to embrace a greater variety of non-ordained specified ministries, for example, accredited lay preacher, non-accredited youth worker, and pastoral assistant among others.
Option 1 proposes an additional category of Pastor which would be an ordained (by the Presbytery into ministry of Word and Sacrament) ministry in a local and specific context. ‘Ordination’ here recognises the essential nature of this ministry, while the designation of ‘Pastor’ recognises the specific context of the ministry.
Option 2 does not include the designation of ‘Pastor’, proposing that the principle of the essential and accountable nature of ordained ministry takes precedence over any need to distinguish between categories of ordination on the basis of their local or general authority. The distinction between conventionally-trained, generally available ordained ministers and those whose ministry is limited to a particular context would be a matter internal to the Uniting Church regulations and processes.
Option 3 does not include ordination of people for specific local contexts. It proposes that within the Church Worker category there is the possibility for the ministry of (non-ordained) Lay Pastor to be granted authority to preside at the sacraments. This option addresses those situations where a conventionally trained and placed ordained minister is unavailable.
Copies of the Options Paper can be downloaded from the Assembly website at http://assembly.uca.org.au/converse/conversation3.htm.
Response forms should be returned by January 31 to Assembly Specified Ministries Task Group
c/- Uniting Church, Queensland Synod, GPO Box 674, Brisbane Q 4001, or e-mailed to: