Becoming a ministry agent in the Uniting Church is a process of discernment, theology study and formation, graduation and placement. Insights spoke to a number of recent graduates from United Theological College. This cohort included newly ordained ministry agents and people waiting for a placement. They spoke of their hopes, challenges, and what they have learnt so far. 

Gail Hinton: ‘Trust the process

Gail Hinton is currently in supply at Carlingford Uniting Church. On 1 August, she begins as Minister of the Word at Greystanes Uniting Church.

I began my time [in Carlingford] as an Advanced Candidate in a Student Practicum,” she said.

“This supply arrangement has been extended as I wait for a call to a permanent placement. I have learnt so much during my time at Carlingford and have enjoyed the role immensely. It is a relief to finish formation and then go out and do what we have been trained to do and discover that yes, I actually love this vocation and yes, I am pretty good at it too, I say in all humility.”

“I began my student practicum at the same time as finishing the last subject for my Bachelor of Theology Degree, which was an Independent Research Subject.  For that subject I researched current thinking regarding the changing nature of many mainline churches including our own. My paper was entitled Words of Hope for Aging and Declining Congregations. “

“Although I am still learning about the issues facing the church today, I am keen to assist the church in seeing new possibilities, in taking risks, in being braver and bolder and in understanding change as a necessary part of the journey.”

“When my colleagues and I began our formation journey we heard time and time again the saying “Trust the process”. The first year was overwhelming and the second year strange due to COVID lockdowns. By the third year I think we all began to feel like ministers; the process was working, and we could see this in each other and most importantly in ourselves.”

“Formation is said to break you down and then hopefully put you back together again. I think we continue to break down and continue to grow indefinitely as we strip away our egos and our insecurities.”

“In the end we hopefully become the calm presence, the one who can sit in silence, the one who is not afraid to be vulnerable, the one who can listen without judgement and without trying to fix every person or problem. We learn to sit with complexity, grief and joy grounded in the God we get to know more intimately during the three years of Formation. The process allows us to address our own baggage so that we can put it down for the sake of others.”

“I am very grateful to the church for taking me on as a candidate. I really wasn’t sure I was cut out for it, some of my mentors and teachers may have wondered about that too but discernment is a mysterious thing, a Godly, spiritual thing.”

Rev. Trish Rooney: Taking the church into the world

Rev. Trish Rooney was previously a Chaplain for Uniting. However, her new role is the one for which she was ordained.
Rev. Rooney recently discerned a call away from chaplaincy, and accepted a call to Paddington Uniting Church as their Community Minister, a role she will officially start in June.

“My situation is slightly different to other candidates as I am already working in ministry it is hard to comment on what the transition has been like,” Rev. Rooney said.

“What I can say is that as my formation journey progressed I needed to transitioned from how I saw myself as a lay leader to how I would see myself as an ordained leader. The transition has been more of an internal process than physical.”

Rev. Rooney said it was hard to put into words what ordination meant to her.

“Ordination for me is more than, ‘who am I?’” It includes how I exercise ‘who I am,’” she explained.

“As an ordained deacon I am called to take the church into the world, to be a shepherd to the people, proclaim to Gospel in word and deed and equip others in ministry.”

When Rev. Rooney commenced formation, she was already in the specified ministry of pastor as a chaplain with Uniting. She continued to work fulltime in the role and said she was, “incredibly blessed with the support of the Head of Chaplaincy and had the flexibility in my role to attend the weekly formation programme.”

“My various roles within Uniting served as my field placement requirements for formation,” Rev. Rooney said.

“I was also given the opportunity to work in the Church Engagement Team in Uniting and this came from a recommendation from college for me to gain some different experience.”


Kungtae Lee: “Coming out of the cave”

At the time of writing, Kungtae Lee (or ‘Tae’ as he is known), is waiting on a placement.

He has lived in Australia since 2005. Having finished formation in 2021, he is currently in what he described as “a transition time waiting for a placement.” Mr Lee told Insights that he expects to be in placement soon and is, in the meantime, working for Sydney Presbytery as a Korean Congregation and Leader Integration Assistant.

“When I commenced my study and training, I thought it was so difficult. I felt like I was in a dark cave,” Mr Lee said.

“I seriously thought to withdraw from the formation. However, graciously, God helped me to reflect on my situation. As I went deep inside the cave, I realised that it could not be a one end dark cave. It looked and felt like a cave, but it was a tunnel. There was an open end to walk out. So, I could grab hope to keep going.”

“Now, I just came out of the cave,” he said. “As you know, when we turn on a light in a dark room, we need time for our eyes to adjust. The eyes are a bit blurry, but soon the sight becomes clear. It is a bit similar to mine. In this transition, I’m blinking and adjusting the light. I’m still feeling the darkness as well as the light.”

“Although the formation provides plenty of real training opportunities, it will be an actual real ministry for me to encounter the real wild world,” Mr Lee said. “As I just came out, I am very excited to get into a new placement. Also, I am very nervous and scared as I am going in, so I cover my eyes with my hand a bit. However, between these two feelings, I have hope which is the same that I experienced before. So, I know what I need to do. That is to keep going as I was called.”

“Interestingly, I have experienced the same things three times in my life. Three different people told me that they wanted to attend the church I will be ministering in the future.”

“A way of my expression to God is to live as an ordained person who keeps saying “I love you, Lord” and feeding God’s people. Also, my ordained life is to stay with those who God wants to be with. To be sure, it is very meaningful to be ordained. Although my life hasn’t begun as an ordained person, I will definitely end up as an ordained minister.”

Mr Lee said called on Insights readers to pray for candidates.

“This time, I want to ask Insights’ readers to think of the candidates in formation. They are not doing it to get another qualification or degree. They are struggling and thriving to keep their divine calls. That’s why they came into this difficult process, and they are trying their best in God. I ask you to remember them and pray, encourage and support them.”

Heewon Chang : ‘The right amount of chaos

Heewon Chang is one of the ministers at Hope Uniting Church in Maroubra.

“The church is located at the corner of Anzac Parade where all the shops begin so I was blown away by its location,” Rev. Chang said.

“[It is] such a great blessing to be placed at a point where all the locals come out for their shopping and daily things.”

“I am still getting to know the people and the surroundings but Hope congregation is a mixture of different people at different stages of life who hold each other honestly and gracefully.”

Rev. Chang said that she appreciated that Maroubra had both the young and the old seeking faith and figuring out what it means to be a disciple. Hope Uniting Church runs a monthly barbecue on the first week of Sunday, which stopped due to COVID. Since then, the church more recently brought it back as gatherings resumed.

“Because (the barbecue) happens on Communion Sunday there is this natural flow from the Lord’s Table to the table of gathering,” Rev. Chang said.

“It is beautiful and wonderful and we are talking about how we build on this tradition of Hope which can be extended into the community. Hope Uniting Church has the right amount of chaos and genuine people caring for each other.” 

Rev. Chang said that formation is not something that ever finishes. Instead, she believes that it is a process that is still continuing and that will continue until retirement.

“Being in the formation process makes you realise that…you are never 100 percent ready…but it allows you to fully understand who you are, what your gifts are so that you can be in ministry as you,” Rev. Chang said. “Formation does not teach you about building a community but it invites you into the community life and live in it so that when you are in ministry you can be in the community. It does not teach you to be a sophisticated minister who has everything under control, it enables you to deeply listen to yourself and others so that you can offer leadership in that space and to know your limitations so you can ask for help when needed.”

 “Candidate life is pretty busy and stressful but because of that, it allows you to learn the importance of boundaries, rest, and to develop your own rhythm of work.”

Rev. Allison Forrest: ‘Tiring, but alive

Rev. Allison Forrest is a Minister at Toronto Uniting Church.

On 1 February 2022, she began a full time placement.

“In these super-early days, I’m spending a lot of time visiting and getting to know the congregation and community,” Rev. Forrest said. “Preparing for and leading worship is also a major focus at this time. The congregation already has a thoughtful and well-rounded mission plan, engaged and active leaders and well-established community connections. My role is really focused on growing the congregation’s theological and biblical understanding, and equipping them for ministry and mission.”

I’ve been through a lot of changes in my life and this is one of the easier transitions that I have experienced.”

Rev. Forrest said that the formation program prepared her well for the move to full time ministry.

“I am really blessed to be in a placement that is such a good match for my gifts and capacities,”she said. “Having said that, I am working really hard, so it’s tiring. But I feel alive.”

“A few months down the track, I would also say that being ordained means being able to serve God’s church, and the world that God loves, with a new level of freedom and integration.”

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