Moderator marks three decades in ministry
Moderator of NSW and ACT Synod Rev. Simon Hansford was first ordained as a Uniting Church minister on 18 December 1990. In the thirty years since, he has seen a wider shift in society take place, as the church has become in his eyes a much more marginal presence. This, he says, gives the church the chance to live out its calling.
When Insights called Moderator Simon Hansford, he was on his way to Canberra for a Saltbush event.
“We’ve created some really good initiatives in ministry that other churches are astonished by. I think Saltbush is one of these,” he said.
Rev. Hansford’s role as Moderator sees him travel regularly from Tamworth to Sydney.
When he was ordained, the service took place in what was then known as Kuringai Presbytery (now known as Sydney Central Coast Presbytery).
Rev. Hansford recalled that he came to faith in a youth group in St Ives in Sydney, later working as a young adult in youth ministry in Miranda.
“I loved my time in college,” he said.
“Both the cohort I came up with and the faculty”
Among others, Graham Perry, Myung Hwa Park, and Graeme Gardiner were in his cohort.
“There were lots more ministry candidates back then,” he said.
“The church into which I was ordained looked very differently especially in terms of ordained ministry.”
“We knew there would be alterations, I guess we didn’t expect to see the number of ministers ordained to be so much smaller.”
Rev. Hansford nominated the growth in popularity of the internet and mobile phones, felt acutely during the pandemic, as the biggest shift that took place during his time in ministry.
“The nature of communication and the way people gathered was so much different,” he said.
“The internet and mobile phones were just not the case when I was ordained.”
“The essence of ministry remains the same, being community, forming community, advocating for justice, and the place of god in the wider world.”
The conversation about how to do ministry in the post-Christendom world, where fewer people regularly go to church, was something that had advanced during this time.
“We were talking about the post-Christendom world when we were at college,” Rev. Hansford recalled.
“Rather than an accepted part of the world we are now missionaries in the world.”
“In many ways it reminds us who we are supposed to be.”
“I think our place is best suited at the edges of society.”
The church, Rev. Hansford said, must now learn how to better communicate with people who are fourth or fifth generation un-churched, which has implications for its ministry, how it works alongside the wider community, and how it expresses its understanding of the gospel.
Accordingly, he drew attention to times when the church spoke to wider society as being the highlights of his past thirty years in ministry.
“For me, the highlights I would speak of would be when the church engages in conversation…and people in the community see that as a valuable conversation,” he said.
Rev. Hansford cites the Uniting Church’s discussions regarding marriage, drug law reform, and community initiatives such as the heroin injecting centre in Kings Cross.
“The fact is, discipleship and people coming to faith means much more in a community where people don’t see themselves as churched,” he said.
“The essential question for the church is, how do we bear witness to Christ in a society that doesn’t know who that is anymore?”
“How do we proclaim our faith in Christ when the whole church has not lived up to its calling?”
The wider community, Rev. Hansford said, now has a greater mistrust of institutions than was the case when he was first ordained.
“One of the advantages of the Uniting Church is that we have always talked about not being an institution,” he said.
“The decline of the church is a marked thing for us. We are a church most notably in conversation with the world around us.”
The next thirty years
Looking ahead, Rev. Hansford said he hoped the next thirty years might see the church find new ways to express the gospel to the wider community, that he would, “love to see the church find new wineskins into which to put the wine.”
“We have to find the ways to articulate our faith in the world around us,” he said.
“We have to marry our significant work with the community with the gospel to which we proclaim.”
“I’m incredibly thankful for the footsteps in which I walk.”
“I’m thoughtful for those folk who come after me.”
With his home in Tamworth, Rev. Hansford often makes long journeys to the likes of Sydney and Canberra. He expressed gratitude for his family’s understanding, as he frequently has to be away.
“Fiona’s been incredibly gracious and has affirmed my call,” he said.
“I want to thank the friends who have covenanted to care for her in my absence.”
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