Thought for the Month (May 2007)

Wot no Ministers?

Bob and Karen Street are now half-way through their three-month Sabbatical. Although it may be 'business as usual', except occasionally, at Hawkenbury, both the Rusthall and Tunbridge Wells congregations continue with life minus the input of their Ministers. From the point of view of the United Reformed Church this should not make too much of a difference. We have Elders to provide spiritual leadership and pastoral care, and we speak glibly of the 'priesthood of all believers'. However, these two congregations do feel a bit of a 'Sabbatical' loss.

Perhaps, then, this is a good time for all of us to reflect on the purpose of the ordained Ministry in our Churches. (Hawkenbury members, you can join in too, just imagine that you no longer have Richard as your own Lay Pastor). Ever since 'The Future Deployment of Ministers' paper was produced by our Synod last March twelve-month our church Elders have been thinking about the role of the Ministry. Do we need a person with a theological college training just to fulfil the traditional roles of 'Hatching, matching and dispatching' members of the community, or will the church Ministry of the future be quite different?

Synod has given some examples of 'different' kinds of Ministry where the 'lay' Elders of a Church take on the traditional roles of leading worship and pastoral care, and the 'ministry' money is spent instead on a paid children's, youth, or community social worker, or on funding a street evangelist, or on industrial or hospital chaplaincy teams; or even on a paid manager for a sheltered housing scheme incorporating a day-centre for the elderly. In each case, the nature of the paid ministry is tailored exactly to fit the situation in which each worshipping community finds itself.

One of the reasons why Synod is calling on us to have a really good think about the 'Future Pattern of Ministry' is purely practical - neither are there, nor can we afford to pay, enough ordained Ministers for the conventional pattern to continue; but the main reason is to help equip us better to face up to the basic purpose of Christ's Church, which is to win the whole world for Him. Our present pattern of churchmanship does not seem to be very efficient at spreading the good news of Jesus much beyond the walls of our churches. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is calling us all into a radical rethink of what 'Church' is all about. What do you think?

Bob Webb

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Tunbridge Wells United Reformed Church