Mobile ministry, an innovative placement idea, hopes it can soon offer support to country churches throughout the Loddon Mallee region.
Like many rural communities throughout Australia, isolated congregations in the presbytery of Loddon Mallee often rely on the efforts of lay ministers and dedicated church members to keep running. They support communities dealing with the effects of drought, exodus of young people, employment uncertainty and the resulting complex social issues, often for years on end.
Speaking with Rev Gordon Bannon, presbytery minister, pastoral care for Loddon Mallee, it is clear he admires the passion of lay church members to support their local communities. But he knows that working for so long in churches without a minister can be exhausting, particularly for ageing congregations.
“In our presbytery we have had a lot of churches without a minister for a long time,” Mr Bannon said.
“There’s a good strong lay ministry with some people waiting for a minister and some thinking they will never be able to afford a minister again. They are just getting on with the business of being church.
“But when it’s all run by lay people they tend to express that, even though it’s good, they get very tired and need a bit of a break. Also, without an ordained minister it can be very isolating, not just physically. It’s hard to keep a connection with the wider church.”
Victoria’s Loddon Mallee region covers nearly 59,000 square kilometres, or more than a quarter of the state. Bordered by South Australian to the north west; the Murray River to the north and the Macedon Ranges to the south east, Loddon Mallee’s population is currently reported as 304,560.
Much of Loddon Mallee has felt the effects of severe drought for many years. The devastation of crop failure can ripple through a small town, resulting in the closure of small businesses, schools and community groups. Churches are not immune, so at a time when community support is needed most, many are facing dwindling numbers, ageing congregations and a shortage of ordained minsters.
Mr Bannon said the Loddon Mallee presbytery has come up with an inventive program he hopes can alleviate the pressure on rural congregations.
“We have attempted to think outside the box for ways to resource congregations who can’t afford, or attract, an ordained minister,” Mr Bannon said.
“We have come up with something a little different that we call ‘Mobile Ministry’. It combines aspects of traditional ministry, resource ministry, team ministry, supply ministry and lay ministry.”
The idea is to offer a placement to a minister where they will be put into a congregation, or cluster, and work with the church for three months before moving on to the next church. Mr Bannon stresses that the placement will focus on supporting and enhancing the existing work of the church.
“The minister’s role is to give the people who have been running the place a bit of a rest and do the services, support them, work with them to develop a plan about what they do next; to give them an outside perspective.
“We’re not looking to get this person to go into somewhere and start new stuff. In the majority of these areas people are doing really good things. They’re just getting really quite worn down at times by having to do it all themselves. It’s about being attentive to what people need and how they can be nurtured in their mission, not the mission of the minister who will be gone in three months’ time.
“Over many years we have had patrol ministries but this is quite different in its character to that. It is congregationally based and it is very much a three-month focus on a particular area to try to build up their strengths and resources and their ability to be God’s people in mission.”
Mr Bannon said the role would be ideal for an experienced minister with a sense of adventure. He said that the role is negotiable in terms of where the minister will stay. Although there is a manse allowance, the presbytery has the finances for a campervan, and the presbytery would consider a husband and wife team.
“There are different possibilities and we are trying not to nail it down too much because if we have someone who is really interested in the concept it can work a lot of different ways.”
He said it is also important to stress that the minister won’t be working alone, they will be supported by the presbytery team. While the role will be challenging, he feels, for the right person, it will also be incredibly rewarding.
“Ideally this would suit someone who has got a fair bit of experience under their belt or felt God calling them to something just that bit challenging in a different sort of way.
“I don’t want to guild the lily, Loddon Mallee is fairly flat and dry and the places into which the minister will go are not necessarily easy positions to go in to. They are struggling communities.
“The attractive part of it, frankly, is the people. The people are just amazingly resilient and welcoming and warm, as a lot of rural people are. They would be so grateful for this opportunity to be given to them.”
For more information on Mobile Ministry contact Rev Gordon Bannon on 0417037450 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.