1. A PERIOD OF TRANSITION
1.1 The period since the 13th Assembly has been a time of significant transition for the Assembly with regard to “the reception of Ministers from other denominations” (Constitution Clause 38(a)). The 13th Assembly, after the work of a review task group, significantly changed the structure and process for the admission of Ministers from other denominations. These regulations were approved and came into force at the November 2012 Assembly Standing Committee. As a consequence the Assembly in the triennium since that last Assembly had two committees (and regulatory regimes): the Reception of Ministers Committee (using the old rules Reg. 2.51- 2.5.2 (2012 Regulations) and the renamed Admission of Ministers Committee – using the new rules Regulations 2.5.1 – 2. 5.3 (2012 Regulations as amended). The Admission of Ministers Committee continued to administer under the old rules applications that were made before November 2012.
1.2 There was also a period of transition, in that the then chair of the Assembly Reception of Ministers Committee, Rev Dr Douglas Miller, died on 4 February, 2013. Dr Miller served the Committee faithfully and well, and is greatly missed. The new chair (of the new committee) appointed by the Assembly Standing Committee was Rev Dr John Evans. Dr Evans had been a member of the former Reception of Ministers Committee, and had convened the Assembly Task Group to review the old regulations. The former members of the Reception of Ministers Committee continued as members of the new Assembly Admission of Ministers Committee.
2. THE 13TH ASSEMBLY CHANGES
2.1 The 13th Assembly significantly changed the process for a Minister from another denomination to be admitted as a Uniting Church Minister. Key among these changes were:
2.1.1 The Synod (through its own committee or structure) would manage the process of admission. The Assembly however, would issue a certificate that the process had been completed. In other words, the Assembly would have an oversight role, rather than directly managing individual applications. The Assembly Committee would set the policies by which that process would be administered by the Synod.
2.1.2 An applicant would first serve in the Uniting Church, before the process of admission would be undertaken. Many of the assessments required for admission (such as being a Minister in good standing in the former denomination, with an awareness of the polity and ethos of the Uniting Church) are now required before a minister of another denomination can serve in the Uniting Church. See Reg. 2.5.1(d).
2.1.3 There are now formal requirements that a mentor be appointed for an applicant; and a greater role is given to the Presbytery in which the applicant serves.
3. THE WORK OF THE ADMISSION OF MINISTERS COMMITTEE
3.1 The main responsibility of the Assembly Committee is to maintain oversight of the process of applications being handled by the Synods, and develop policy for the church in the area of the admission of Ministers from other denominations. In the last triennium the Committee has also handled applications made prior to November, 2012 under the old rules – although it should be noted that this work is now virtually at an end.
3.2 With regard to its oversight function, the Assembly Committee chairperson and secretary have endeavoured to meet on a regular basis with representatives of the synods involved in the admission of ministers from other denominations (usually the synod Associate General Secretaries). It also endeavoured to develop a documentation process in which the Assembly would be kept informed of the progress of applications to serve/be admitted to the church.
3.3 In terms of policy development, note the following policies which have now been developed by the Assembly Committee:
3.3.1 A statement on the ordinations which the Uniting Church recognises.
3.3.2 A list of the denominations recognised ordinations by the Uniting Church. (The Assembly Committee will assist the synods in determining if an ordination is recognised by the Uniting Church and is not on this list.)
3.3.3 A “working list” of theological colleges recognised by the Uniting Church.
3.3.4 A process for determining the ‘good standing’ of a minister within the denomination from which they are seeking to leave.
3.3.5 A statement of the educational and ministry formation standard required for a minister from another denomination.
3.3.6 A statement on Ministers from other denominations and the ministry of pastor within the Uniting Church in Australia.
The Committee is also working on a policy with regard to an applicant’s English language ability.
It is the hope of the Committee that these policies will soon be more widely available through the Assembly’s website.
4. ADMISSIONS OF MINISTERS TO THE UNITING CHURCH IN THE LAST TRIENNIUM
Old Rules Applications completed: 29
Old Rules Applications completed but awaiting placement: 3
New Rules Applications completed: 3
New Rules Applications in process: [NSW 11; VicTas 7]
5. REVIEW OF THE NEW PROCESS FOR THE ADMISSION OF MINISTERS
5.1 It still is perhaps too soon to pass judgement on the new process put in place at the last Assembly. Generally, however, despite some teething issues, it seems to have been well received by the synods. The new process has certainly brought to the surface instances where a minister from another denomination has served for many years in the Uniting Church without ever seeking to be admitted as a Uniting Church minister. It also has meant that there is now a clearer process for a minister from another denomination serving with the Church prior to be admitted to its ministry.
5.2 Some issues however, have arisen. It is quite clear that there is difficulty for synods to find places for an applicant to serve (now a prerequisite for admission). Typically this is not because the requirement itself is not worthwhile, but generally, the Church itself is not able to provide these opportunities. A related issue is that, this requirement to serve in a placement prior to the admission process may not be relevant. In particular, the applicant may already be retired or near retirement, and yet being admitted as a Minister of the Church is still significant for the applicant and also for the Uniting Church. This situation will be monitored, and it may be that a discretionary exception that the Minister does not have to serve in a placement prior to admission is required, administered by the Assembly.
6. COMMITTEE MEMBERSHIP AND THANKS
6.1 The Committee thanks the former members: Howard Wallace who brought contemporary theological education expertise; Peter Blackwood, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, Associate General Secretary who brought a synod perspective to the Committee’s work; and Charity Majiza who has provided a valuable cross-cultural perspective for many years – especially with regard to the many southern African applicants.
6.2 The Committee has been glad to welcome Isabel Thomas Dobson, the Associate General Secretary of the Victoria and Tasmania Synod and Geoff Thompson, Pilgrim Theological College.
Rev Dr John Evans
APPENDIX A ADMISSION OF MINISTERS COMMITTEE
Responsible to: The Standing Committee
Reporting arrangements: The Standing Committee
Mission statement: To fulfil the Assembly’s responsibilities in relation to the admission of ministers from other denominations as stated in Constitution clause 38(a) and Regulations 2.5.1 – 2.5.3.
Mandate: [Regulation 2.5.1 – 2.5.3]
The Committee shall:
1. establish guidelines to be applied by the Synods for ordained ministers of other denominations to serve and be admitted as a Minister of the Word or Deacon, including the requirements for the education and ministry formation of the applicant
2. provide oversight of the process of the application, assessment and admission
3. maintain a list of ordained ministries of denominations of the church catholic that are recognised for the purposes of Regulation 2.5.1(e), and if such ordination is not so listed determine the matter
4. on the advice of the Synod in which the application is made, issue a certificate of completion of requirements for admission of an ordained minister of another denomination as a Minister of the Word or Deacon
General: The responsibilities of every agency include:
• focusing the activities of the agency on the vision of the Assembly as a whole;
• advising the Assembly and/or the Standing Committee on policy matters within their area of responsibility;
• making policy decisions where the Assembly or the Standing Committee has delegated authority for certain policy areas, either through the agency mandate or by resolution;
• participating in cross-agency projects and teams established from time to time by the Assembly or the Standing Committee.
Power to appoint:
• To establish working groups for special tasks related specifically to the mandate.
• To make recommendations to the Standing Committee to establish other working groups for special tasks related to but not part of the mandate.
Membership of the Reference Committee:
• A chairperson and up to 10 members from within one Synod area, appointed by the Standing Committee;
• Power to co-opt up to two additional persons to ensure appropriate competencies, representation and development of new leadership.