My life was rich and full in my late 40’s. I was happily married with 3 young adult children whose lives were full of interest and change, completing high school and discerning career pathways. I loved my role as Associate Pastor at our local Church which was diverse and demanded my best effort. Why pursue this Period of Discernment when it hadn’t led in the direction I was discerning? Because I am a woman of my word – and I had committed to the full process. Besides, there was still a niggle that there may be a further call on my life.
Over the decades of going to Church, I had on 2 occasions read a leaflet near noticeboards about Deacon (previously Deaconess) Ministry. Both times I remember thinking that the description of a Deacon fitted my interests perfectly. But I quickly dismissed them with an attitude of ‘I’m not good enough to be ordained and haven’t been called to it in anyway’. Coincidentally, both my Period of Discernment (PoD) Supervisor and my Ministry Supervisor were both Deacons, despite this being a minority role in the Uniting Church. One had been a long-term missionary in south-east Asia, the other a Mental Health Chaplain. A Deacon role was concerned with making a way for congregational members to enact their Christian faith in service of their local community; enactment of social justice; and as an innovative and passionate leader creating new forms of Christian leadership – to name a few. My PoD Supervisor suggested books for me to read and one of them connected with this last aspect of leading innovative change in the Church. This book spoke to me convincingly, as I read with amazement how I embodied the suggested characteristics of such a ministry agent so fully. Maybe this dissatisfaction with the status quo of our thriving church was from God after all?
I finally decided to become a Candidate for Minister of Deacon while doing the required introductory subject about Ministry in the Uniting Church. I was doing my reading while flying over to Tasmania to see my brother, concerning roles of Minister of the Word (MoW) and Minister of Pastor. It felt dead to me. I was already a Pastor in my Church and the MoW description just didn’t resonate with me. Again, I thought the process was over. On the flight home, I read the Minister of Deacon summary. It was very similar to the MoW description – just giving a different emphasis to which ministry roles were prioritised – more of an outward-looking, community focus. Unexpectedly at the time, this one resonated! Looking back, I see this as unsurprising, but at the time it startled me into action.
Both Minister of the Word and Minister of Deacon are ordained roles in the Uniting Church of equal status. Ordination has different meanings and regulations in the variety of Christian denominations, but basically the person to be ordained commits to lifelong availability for service within the Church. The Church confers a new status upon the person and also commits to their welfare. More details here .
Much process and many hurdles followed, including becoming an extremely reluctant Bachelor of Ministry student at age 50! But most subjects were enlivening and eye-opening, and at times, extremely challenging. I wouldn’t have made it through, especially given some huge personal hurdles over this period, if it hadn’t been very clear to me that I was called to this. Life was hectic and I learned that perfectionism had to go if I was going to make it through.
Despite the difficult path and clear call, it appeared there was no placement for me to be ordained into that matched my specific passion to be a change agent in the Church. But after I prayed for direction for my future, my current position of Community Chaplain, 1400kms away in Sydney, was brought to my attention within 20 minutes! This is a whole new story, but suffice to say for now that God led me very surely to meet a faithful, generous congregation, who had been arduously planning this role for many years too.
Numbers 23:19 (ESV Bible)
“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”
Hebrews 10:23 (ESV Bible)
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”
The articles here are currently written by Liam McKenna, Lane Cove Community Chaplain.