August 2005 Is there an empty pew that needs you?

The warden from the Western Suburbs church was blunt. “Mate, it’s like being the ugly sheila at the dance.” He was answering a question from an assistant minister who had asked him how a church’s search for a parish minister was going.

“It was that comment that made me look hard at this church,” he says now, talking about the church he has since become minister of. He went home asking “Who needs me more: X [where he was happy as assistant minister] or Y [in the West]?

It’s a story that does this minister much credit, which is why he doesn’t want me to use his name. He doesn’t want to come across as a hero. That’s because he enjoys ministering to his people.

The dance goes on. Of the 12 parishes which missed out on hiring an assistant minister this year, six were in the West and three were in Wollongong.

This pew-sitter is forced to the reluctant conclusion that there are unfashionable pulpits in our Diocese. A moment’s thought is all it takes to begin to understand why. Some parishes are hard: poorly resourced with money and talent. With the new emphasis on mission and measuring numbers there is a new disincentive to serve in places where growth will be difficult.

Now just around the corner there’s the ‘Brendan Nelson’ solution. Just like the forceful Minister for Education, who has founded new medical schools to solve the country doctor shortage problem, Sydney has ramped up production of ministers. SMBC and Moore are bulging. And that’s really good news.

There’s 35 ‘candidates’ for Sydney ministry graduating next year from Moore. A bumper harvest.

Numerically, it appears that the problem will be fixed. Does this mean everyone gets to dance?

Yes, a dance or two. But we need longer-term romances. There’s a tendency for clergy not to stay in the West or other unfashionable places. To some extent they reflect the rest of us, moving house for better schools, or because of burnout.

Thankfully, some senior clergy have moved West. Dudley Foord (St Ives to Liverpool via South Africa) and Jim Ramsey (Bexley North to Liverpool) come to mind. Good on you.

Now some clergy persist in reading this pew-sitter’s column. So I know some readers will be thinking; “What about you lot there. Want to make a difference? Come to a parish that needs you.”

All of us in the pews should wonder whether there is a plastic chair that needs us more. Really.

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