12th Assembly 2009

Third phase of ministry training changed

A decision made by the Uniting Church’s national Assembly on July 20 will simplify and strengthen the transition of Uniting Church ministry candidates into ordained ministry.

The Rev. Bev Fabb, from Western Australia, said it was, “Vital for the work of the church that we help people to transition into ordained ministry.”

Ms Fabb had moved an amendment to the initial proposal brought by the Ministerial Education Commission which would have seen the ministry intern phase scrapped altogether.

The assembly’s decision means that people completing the core phase of their ministry training, having satisfied their presbytery that they are ready and having accepted a placement, will be able to be ordained immediately.

The third phase of training will no longer be referred to as that “intern phase” but will be lengthened to a period of three years, during which time new ministers will be given strong mentoring and support.

Ms Fabb said her amendment to the MEC proposal was “to retain what was valuable in the third phase but to get rid of what was not working.”

The main thing that was not working previously was the confusion created by having someone in placement as a minister, able to do weddings, funerals and baptisms, but not ordained.

The Rev. Dr Andrew Dutney said MEC had been concerned that ordination was seen as a reward for good behaviour while in placement. “That doesn’t do justice to the richness of our theology,” he said.

A number of people expressed reservations about whether there was still a need for people to spend time in placement before being ordained.

One member suggested the current intern phase was similar to that for lawyers or doctors; however this was refuted by Andrew Johnson, a recently-qualified lawyer from Queensland Synod. Mr Johnson said his experience was that the intern phase in other professions was closer to the church’s field education process so it was helpful to remove the name.

Cathie Lambert from Western Australia spoke as a person who had recently completed her intern phase and was preparing for ordination. She urged people to trust their theological colleges to adequately prepare people for ministry.

Ms Lambert suggested it might be important to develop some kind of liturgical or symbolic event to mark the transition from phase three to the final stage of ministry: continuing education.

Some people in presbytery roles expressed concern about the burden of having to supervise ministers and ensure they participated in continuing education.

“We know an awful lot of Uniting Church ministers in placement don’t have supervisors and therefore can’t fulfil their obligations in relation to the Code of Ethics,” agreed Dr Dutney. “We also know a lot of ministers don’t take on continuing education and once again fall down in relation to their obligations in relation to Code of Ethics.

“One way to address that is to train ministers with good practices in the first place.”