A momentous milestone in the life of the Uniting Church was marked last weekend with the commissioning of a full-time pastor in Aurukun.
Pastor Lee Willis-Ardler, a graduate of the Wontulp-Bi-Buya College, brings a wealth of community development experience to the role, which Associate General Secretary for the Queensland Synod, Rev John Ruhle describes as vital.
“Firstly, this is the only church in town which now has an Indigenous pastor to serve an indigenous community,” says John.
“Aurukun is easily the largest Indigenous church in all of Australia and with a new manse to be built on site in the coming future, our presence in the region is secured. Yes, this is a good outcome for the Uniting Church, but more importantly, it is a great outcome for the Aurukun community.”
John’s sentiments were echoed by Lee “The people of the community have very strong faith, and in the short time that I have been here, I have seen that faith demonstrated in many ways,” says Lee.
“People stop me in the street and ask me if I am the new pastor. They then tell me how happy they are that there is a pastor in placement after a long period of absence. Based on my brief period of time here, I would say that having a Uniting Church presence in the community is not just important, it is imperative.”
According to John, this is also part of a long-term strategy for the Calvary and North Queensland Presbyteries.
“We have a full-time minister, Rev Craig Mischewski who has two half placements in Weipa and Mapoon; Tevita Niurua in a placement at Napranum Uniting Church; and Dr Gewa Au in a placement at Mornington Island Uniting Church,” says John.
“These ministers along with the Moses Fangupo on Thursday Island and Chris Guise in the Kennedy Patrol as ministries of the North Queensland Presbytery, Lee’s commissioning rounds out that team giving the Uniting Church an amazing ministry across the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York region.”
Lee will be supported by a team of local elders, many of whom are also undertaking ministry and theology studies. These elders have been able to keep the spirit of the Uniting Church alive in Aurukun during a difficult period with no dedicated minister thanks to the support of lay leaders as well as Craig and Tevita who regularly travelled to the community.
Lee says the leadership demonstrated by the local elders has been inspiring and their ongoing involvement is part of his vision for the congregation moving forward.
“During my commissioning, there were two other members of the church elder-group, which comprises more than 70 members, commissioned into positions of lay pastoral assistants,” says Lee.
“I felt their commissioning was far more important than mine because it is the first step for the Aurukun people to lead into succession planning. I want to see the locals running their own show. In three years, I want to be coming back to Aurukun as a visitor.”
Aurukun is a community of over 1000 people in Far North Queensland. It is the home of the Wik people which includes five clans (Wanam, Winchanam, Puch, Apalech and Sara).