A timely calling into lay preaching
Insights asked five Uniting Church members about their personal reflections on leadership training and lay ministry, below Richard Fleming shares his story.
“And it’s about time too,” was the thought that jumped into my head as I walked out to the front of Berowra Uniting Church, to be accredited as a lay preacher in June last year. This journey started back in the early 1990s when I first started preaching. I was spurred on by the experience of being part of the team for an Emmaus Walk. It looked like it might happen when I started a lay preachers course via distance education through the then ELM Centre, but it spluttered to a halt when work pressures placed it on hold. But it seems God never gives up, because a talk by Rev. Bronwyn Murphy about the Living Our Faith series offered by Uniting Mission and Education (UME), refreshed that sense of call.
However, there was another motivation for attaining accreditation. My wife and I enjoy exploring this vast country in our caravan and when we can, visiting local congregations. It was on one of these trips, about nine or ten years ago, that we attended worship in a lay-lead church in country NSW. As we were enjoying the hospitality of the congregation after the service, I was struck by the faithful persistence and dedication of the small leadership team. Back on the road, we talked about the service, the warmth of the welcome and the challenges faced by the lay leaders. I recall wondering if maybe they might enjoy a respite from the weekly demands of preparing services and that maybe, this was something I could offer when I retired.
I completed the Living Our Faith series in 2015. For me it was a mind expanding, faith deepening experience. I must admit to being a little surprised (perhaps even embarrassed) at the shallowness of my biblical understanding. Then again, I suspect that I am not alone in this.
Living Our Faith provided the pathway to turning that nagging thought about helping in some way with a rural congregation into reality. I have now completed three, four-week placements (two in Cowra and one in Leeton) and my wife and I are looking forward to returning to Cowra again in 2018. This growing relationship lead to our local Berowra congregation taking its well-publicised ‘Lego Exhibition and Competition’ to Cowra in 2017. It was the exhibition organiser who saw an opportunity to take the exhibition “on the road” to help a rural church build new community connections. Cowra is now taking the exciting step of organising its own exhibition in 2018, with some ongoing help from members of the Berowra congregation.
This has been an interesting and rewarding journey, which has brought home to me the importance of lay leadership in our modern church and the significant challenges facing some congregations, especially in rural areas. It has also shone a light on the wide range of gifts and talent that exist among the people of our church.
Completing the Living Our Faith series has helped me grow in faith and has shaken me out of my comfort zone. The experience at Cowra has shown how diverse gifts can be shared across congregations in supporting the ministry of the Gospel.
Richard Fleming, Berowra.