Tertiary ministry is one of the Uniting Church’s unique activities. With Chaplains and Mission Workers (sometimes known as chaplaincy associates) placed across Australia’s major universities, this work provides spiritual support to students and staff.
Unpredictable and varied in its day to day activities, tertiary ministry is unlike perhaps any other activity that the church is associated with.
“Keeping the rumour of God alive”
In an interview with Insights, Macquarie University Chaplain (and former Mission Worker) Liam Miller spoke of his experience as a challenging and unique ministry that had upended his expectations, including when it came to whether anyone would be showing up for Bible study.
“There’s no guarantee [in tertiary ministry] that [anyone will show] up,” Mr Miller said.
“You pretty much know that if you open your doors on a Sunday, someone is showing up. We didn’t have that [at university]. It’s out there on its own, there’s a consistent turnover of students,” he said.
“It definitely prepares in that you’ve gone into a situation where…most people don’t even know that you’re there. You have to demonstrate that you can contribute to the life of the university. There’s still this sense that you’re there for a purpose, a vocation, and mission.
“It sets you up for a lot of things that are important in that, where a lot of people don’t have visible connection to the church, it has let me know how little expected knowledge you can expect.”
Mr Miller related this concept to an encounter he had with a student.
“[In a Bible study I was asked] “What’s the Exodus?” This person had no concept of it and why should they, in the time we live now? You’ve got to start over with ‘this is what we believe, it’s pretty strange, but we think it’s life giving.’
“Chaplaincy can be like keeping the rumour of God alive and this saying, ‘loitering with intent’. It’s a very interesting space but it helps knock down the idea that there’s a level of assumed knowledge.”
Sponsor A Mission Worker
Christian Students Uniting (CSU) is a Uniting Church’s tertiary student group that operates at a number of tertiary institutes in Sydney. CSU is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to support the work of mission workers on university campuses. The campaign focuses on the impact that tertiary ministry has had on the lives of young people involved in the life of the Uniting Church.
Rev. Radhika Sukumar-White is a Minister of the Word at West Epping Uniting Church. She previously worked with CSU at Sydney University. In a video promoting the crowdfunding campaign, Rev. Sukumar-White said that her experience with CSU led to her later becoming a minister.
“Coming into university…my whole mind was being re-shaped,” she said. “CSU gave me the opportunity to do that with faith and theology.”
“CSU helped me realise that faith influences the whole of life…and supported me when I named before the community that I felt like God was calling me into ministry.”
Dr Jonathan Freeston is a lecturer in Exercise and Sports Science at the University of Sydney.
“It’s highly likely that without Christian Students Uniting, I either wouldn’t be involved in the Uniting Church or indeed, in any church community,” he said.
Dr Freeston said that his experiences with CSU prompted him to consider how his passions could be applied to the promotion of justice, which led him to become passionate about the inequality in health outcomes between wealthier and poorer communities.
“I began to explore what it might look like to use those gifts to help address some of the great needs of the world.
“I started using exercise as a way of addressing health inequality, particularly for folks who were experiencing homelessness, as well as in Aboriginal communities in rural New South Wales.”
Christian Students Uniting have launched their first crowdfunding campaign – ‘Sponsor a Mission Worker’. This campaign aims to ensure that the Tertiary Ministry team has the necessary funds to support university Mission Workers.
The Chuffed crowdfunding campaign can be found here.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor