Revealing a different landscape as a lay preacher
Insights asked five Uniting Church members about their personal reflections on leadership training and lay ministry, below Gaynor Gibson shares her story.
Lay preaching was never on my radar. I had always been an active church member but that was mostly around the administration of the church. For years I had been on numerous committees because they are an important and necessary part of church life. But a move, by my husband and I, to the Central West of NSW changed all of that.
We settled in Molong, a rural community with a population of approximately 2300 people. I started to attend the local Uniting Church, which did not have an ordained minister in residence. This was my first experience of this scenario. The church is wonderfully served by a combination of a retired minister and long serving lay preachers. The running of church was also in good hands and firmly established so this environment gave me the time to re-think where my relationship with God was really at. It felt like my life was being ‘peeled back’ by God, like the layers of an onion’- bit-by-bit, so He could finally expose my core and begin to challenge me.
Prior to coming to Molong, I had been a member of Toastmasters International — a public speaking organisation — for seven years. I finally realised that God was saying to me ‘Well you have done all this training, why aren’t you using it to spread my good news?’ And at the very same time, a member of my new congregation said to me ‘Have you considered becoming a lay preacher?’ Well that sealed it there was no way out!
So in my sixth decade and with the blessing of the Molong Uniting Church, I embarked on the study that will ultimately have me ‘certified’ as a lay preacher. I was also delighted to find out that I could apply for a scholarship that would help with travel and accommodation costs for the weekend sessions. A very thoughtful woman left a bequest to aid rural students and I am very grateful for her generosity.
I have undertaken three of the four components required and have enjoyed every section. UME provide experienced, informative course leaders and the whole journey has deepened my faith and today I have a closer relationship with Jesus Christ than ever before.
The landscape has definitely changed in regards to church ministry, particularly in our rural areas. Lay preachers are playing such an important role, something that would not have been envisaged decades ago. Now, more than ever, congregation members are needed to take on an array of leadership roles, otherwise the church doors will close.
During one of our course weekends, a leader made the comment that she was pleased that not every church now had an ordained minister. Why? Because it made us, as congregational members, think about alternatives with a little help from God. I think that statement has a lot of merit.
I thank God for ‘peeling back those layers’ and showing me that lay preaching was an option for me. It’s not for everyone and we all know that God has given us all different gifts and skills to enrich our churches and mission life within our communities and beyond. But if you have someone in your congregation who may be thinking about this type of ministry, please encourage them to seek God’s calling and if that course is shown, endorse their leadership and keep affirming them.
Finally, I also thank God for sending me to Toastmasters International to help with the public speaking. When I began, I could have rivalled Rudolph for brightness!
Gaynor Gibson, Molong.