Family folklore has it that the first time Rev Allan Thompson’s paternal grandmother held him in her arms she boldly declared that the little fellow would become a moderator of the Presbyterian Church.
“That did not quite happen…but I came close,” Allan laughed.
In 1986-87, at the age of 43, Allan served us moderator of the Victorian Synod of the Uniting Church.
He celebrated his 50th year since ordination at Launceston’s Pilgrim Uniting Church last month.
While Allan is far from alone in achieving the milestone, his five decades have been remarkably active and noteable.
Allan stepped down at the end of January after nine years on the Uniting AgeWell board, the last three as chair. He is also a member of the board of community services agency Uniting and chair of the Presbytery of Tasmania’s pastoral relations committee.
During his career Allan has served across all facets of church life. Beginning as a congregational minister, he worked in administration with a UnitingCare agency, as a presbytery minister and synod senior executive. He also served for more than a decade as a member of the Assembly Standing Committee.
Allan said it was his work as a congregational minister that he looks back on most fondly.
“I sometimes get a bit wistful for congregational ministry, particularly on Christmas Day and Easter Day,” he said.
“My primary vocation was being a parish minister and that is one of the reasons I have been quite happy to accept a limited number of preaching appointments up until the present day.”
Since his 2008 retirement as the synod’s associate general secretary, based in Tasmania, Allan has served as the assembly’s executive officer for the National Response Task Group on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Allan said it was a time of significant learning for the Church as it examined its responsibility for past practices among the three predecessor denominations.
“There has certainly been evidence where the claims of victims were either not taken seriously by the Church or were swept under the carpet,” he said.
Allan said that as a result of the Royal Commission, the Church had better processes for ensuring the safety of children.
“I believe we have also come to appreciate – as not all of us had appreciated before –the depth of the problem and the lifelong mental scars those who have been abused have suffered.”
He said these lessons made it obvious that the ‘just get over it’ response of the past had been totally inadequate.
Although Allan was ordained at the young age of 24, he does think there is any perfect age to enter ministry.
“It is a matter for the individual, but it is a great pity we have so few younger ministers. Those who are younger have more energy, a willingness to take risks, be adventurous and are open to new ways of doing things,” he said.
“But those who are coming into ministry as their second and third careers often bring a lot of life experiences which are beneficial in pastoral connections with a wide range of people.
“So there is not a right or wrong. We need younger and older just as we need both men and women.”
Allan believes that in a time of great change in the nation over the last 50 years the role of the church within Australian society has also changed.
“In an ever-changing society it is necessary that there is an ever-changing church,” Allan said.
“But it is important in the midst of all those inevitable changes that there remains continuity in the things that are really important to the church. Continuity in the proclamation of the Lordship of Christ; continuity in receiving the sacraments, particularly gathering around the Lord’s table; continuity in teaching the faith; and continuity in serving the world.
“So it is a key challenge for all in the church, particularly those in positions of leadership, to balance those two – continuity and change.
“Our forms of church life will continually evolve – and I readily identify with the Basis of Union’s call for expressing the faith in ‘fresh words and deeds’ (paragraph 11).
“We have to engage with social issues even if society, as a whole, no longer looks to the church for guidance on moral, social and political issues.
“But I’m more concerned that the church does not end up being bound by its established ways of doing things – such as the nature of our services, our music, whether we should sit in pews.
“There is certainly plenty of scope for a whole variety of ways we can do worship.”
Allan said he was comfortable to now sit back a little.
“I am well aware of the significance of ordination-for-life but that does not mean you can never retire,” he said.
“I am enjoying the slower pace of life and enjoying the opportunity to say ‘no’ without feeling guilty. Retirement offers both freedom and opportunity.”