My voluntary Church role began with providing and organising pastoral care for the congregation and caring for our newcomers. I loved it and my areas of responsibility expanded. Several years in, the Church decided to formalise the role to Pastoral Assistant and paid me too! The Church continued to grow and more help was required, so a new role of Associate Pastor was created to replace the former one. I experienced most ministry roles in this position and often mixed with ordained Ministers from many denominations, thanks to our inclusive Senior Minister who loved to mentor and encourage me. My view of the Church and its role in our community enlarged further.
However, I was shy and eschewed most ‘platform ministry’, preferring to remain behind the scenes. Over this period, I was challenged by a few people to add preaching to my role. Usually there wasn’t much need to do so and as I had no aspirations in this direction, I simply declined. When the Senior Minister asked me to fill in for a specific date, a few months’ ahead, I wondered if God may be giving me a nudge. Still not keen, I offered God a deal – if I was to pursue preaching, I wanted to be trained to do so before that date. It shouldn’t have happened, as most preaching courses require a semester and the time was less than this. However, a local Church of another Denomination suddenly offered a short preaching course for lay people, so I concluded God had answered me in the positive. Facing my fears, I was trained and immediately preached my first sermon.
Still feeling inadequate as a preacher, I enrolled in a Public Speaking course at our Theological College sometime later. If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it well! I was directly challenged – twice – to consider ordained ministry over this time. I reluctantly accepted a leaflet. Whereas I continued to enjoy my role at the Church, a little dissatisfaction had been bubbling under the surface for some time, with regard to those who didn’t come to worship on Sunday. We had playgroups, Breakfast Club in the local school, various outreaches and invitations to the wider community to come and join us. A few people did, but largely our Church grew with people who moved from other churches. I knew from mixing with other Ministers that this was a common story. From my perspective, something different needed to happen. I knew there was a good and loving God, who could change peoples’ lives beneficially, but they weren’t hearing this message from us. The underlying frustration was challenging me…
For some years, I had been a leader of our mission partnership in Thailand, entailing annual visits with team members from our congregation. My husband and I wondered whether we may eventually be called to serve overseas longer term in some capacity, especially given my ‘call’ as a 15-year-old. Hence, I decided to give the yearlong ‘Period of Discernment’ a go, to confront this ‘call’ to overseas ministry finally. This PoD is the Uniting Church’s process of serious vocational discernment and a pre-requisite to ordained ministry, amongst other outcomes. After the first 6 months, I had discerned that long-term overseas mission was not my call. I was going to end my PoD, when a little voice inside reminded me that I had signed up for a full year. I asked my supervisor what else there may be to discern?
The articles here are currently written by Liam McKenna, Lane Cove Community Chaplain.