Each Sunday Mary-Grace Bingham spends many hours driving across South Australia’s mid-north to lead worship in small stone churches as old as the towns she visits. While the area awaits the appointment of a Minister, she is the Lay Preacher to grateful groups who love that a ‘local’ keeps their congregation going.

Travelling from her home in Jamestown to Hallet, Orroroo and Whyte Yarcowie where congregation numbers can be as small as 10, Mary-Grace plays a valuable role in providing pastoral care to local communities who have embraced her as one of their own.

A warm and caring person, Mary-Grace is the Director of Nursing at the Jamestown Hospital. When she felt called to provide care beyond this role, she undertook a 12 month Period of Discernment to determine where God wanted her to use her gifts. During this time she felt that rather than follow in father’s footsteps and become a minister, she would study Certificate IV in Christian Life and Ministry and become a lay preacher to her local community.

Her skills in nursing and ministry often combine, especially during extreme hot weather that can leave some congregation members wilting. With ambulances some time and distance away, Mary-Grace can be called on to help elderly members who struggle with the heat but are determined to attend the service, especially knowing their lay pastor travelled some time to lead it.

Mary-Grace remembers that on one scorching hot day while saying the Benediction, an elderly woman collapsed with heat exhaustion. Knowing the ambulance was at least an hour away, she cared for the lady and phoned a couple of local nurses she knew who quickly came and got the patient and took her to hospital where she recovered.

Mary-Grace loves being part of her local community and leading local congregations. She’ll sometimes take people in her car as she travels to have someone to share the time with and connect members of the extended congregation. “I love what God has called me to do,” she says.

Mary-Grace Bingham

As a police officer on general patrol, Josh Scherer was used to responding to calls. But a call from Rev Naomi Duke, Minister of the Word at the Parafield Gardens Uniting Church, set his life on a different course. Naomi told Josh that Parafield Gardens had recently created a position of Discipleship Pastor and that they would love him to apply for the role.

Josh, who had been a regular attendee at Tea Tree Gully Uniting Church and Chair of the South Australian Youth Camp Out, describes the call from Naomi as surprising and humbling.

“I felt a call to leadership, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity”, he says.

After praying and discerning his future, he believed he felt a clear call to ministry. In the six weeks that followed he resigned from SA Police, took up his new role, undertook a Period of Discernment and commenced studying towards a Bachelor of Ministry.

Josh says that while things moved quickly, his decision to work in ministry gave him a sense of peace.

“I feel I made the right decision and I am very happy”, he says.

Five years on, Josh has been ordained as a Minister of the Word and has been placed at Gawler Uniting Church.

“It is an incredible privilege to be trusted to communicate and share the Gospel”, he says.

Josh Scherer

The role of Hospital Chaplain and Pastoral Carer is a unique one because it is a role of self-giving and it occupies a privileged place in both the church and community, as well as in the hearts and minds of individuals.

It is a beautiful experience to be able to create a sacred space in which the ‘real’ human being can safely emerge with all their struggles and grief, their joy and pain, as well as their hopes and dreams. It is in this space where healing and transformation can take place.

So, I feel honoured and privileged, when I am given permission to accompany people into the deep recesses of their lives as they courageously journey toward a place of acceptance, wholeness and well-being.

Marion Bowes-Johnston
Bachelor of Ministry Graduate, Lay Preacher and Volunteer Chaplain at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

English Lit graduate, writer of poems and plays, seeks a way to live her life as a creative woman of God. Doors to English PhD, careers in editing and publishing seem promising, but close. A door to writing worship resources for Seasons of the Spirit stands ajar. I’m not sure I have the skills to engage with the Bible. Let me work on that, and return.

Period of discernment student reflects on alternative forms of worship and Christian community, discovers she is a storyteller, discovers that her way to live as a creative woman of God might come through the door to ordained ministry. She steps through, and she is the only one who is surprised at this change in direction.

Much – and I really do mean much – biblical study (including all three levels of both biblical languages and honours in Old Testament), and formation for ordination completed, our creative woman of God, storyteller–poet–minister, now teaches at the college that helped to shape her. And has gone back through that door to write for Seasons of the Spirit.

This is the briefest snapshot of my story. Uniting College provided the environment, teachers, mentors and colleagues who helped a wandering soul find her place in community, church and beyond. This place and its people are a gift. I am so glad to still have connections here, and to continue to travel with you.

Sarah Agnew

The course offered a depth of story-telling by people in various ministries that affirmed, enriched and inspired me in my role as College Chaplain.

Carmel Briggs

Susan studied a B Min as part of the requirements for a Candidate for Minister of the Word within the Uniting Church of South Australia. She was a full time student, having resigned from nursing and moving to Adelaide from Port Lincoln.

“I have experienced friendship, caring and nurturing at the College that gave me life. Students, lecturers and staff from varied backgrounds and ages shared together experiences, thoughts and opinions. This sharing broadened my learning, sometimes confirming and other times challenging my opinions in a way that was safe and enabled me to be whole,” she says.

“Study and change are not easy, the faculty and staff are there to help. If they can’t they will find some one who will. As soon as I commenced at Uniting College over six years ago, I felt like I was “home”.”

Today, Susan is an ordained Minister of the Word and in her first placement at Adare Uniting Church, Victor Harbour.

Susan Doughty

When I commenced my path to ordained ministry I had no idea that path would lead, through a God-graced confluence of circumstances, to Aged Care Chaplaincy. It is an ongoing gift to be able to meet and journey with precious individuals who embody such life experience and wisdom, and together to engage life’s polarities: its sorrow and its joy; its pain and its delight; its seeming pointlessness and its transcendent meaning. Each day I learn from, and am blessed by others, as I trust that, through God’s grace, I offer to them a blessing in return.

Michael Dowling
Bachelor of Ministry Graduate, Minister of the Word and Chaplain at Eldercare

Uniting College increased my passion for ministry and stretched my thoughts in ways that have enlarged my desire to learn. As a leader I have enjoyed the practical and broad influences the College offers.

All truth is God’s truth and to look into the best leadership lessons from different cultures and environments has been refreshing. The College has also cared about how I am on the inside.

All ministry practice does something in us and Uniting College has always been interested in the place where learning and life overlap. Today I am an ordained Minister of the Word at Salisbury Uniting Church.

Nick Patselis
Young Adults Pastor, Hope Valley Uniting Church, Christian Pastoral Support Worker, Highbury Primary School

I stand amazed at the aptness and timeliness of the opportunities that God opened to me as I pursued my studies these last four and a half years at Uniting College.

As a wife, mother of three young adults and an Associate Pastor at Parafield Gardens Uniting Church, I was initially reluctant to add study to the mix. What could God possibly have in store for me– a woman passionate to develop new ways of being a church, but also a quiet, active, outdoor adventurous type? I don’t fit the profile of your average minister or degree student.

Three answers were revealed.

In 2011, the Bachelor of Ministry Practice was offered. Its combination of missiology and innovation with practical ministry and was very appealing, so I enrolled.

In August 2011, I was appointed as chaplain to the large Westbourne Park Uniting Church Netball Club. This gave me the freedom to birth a new ministry in an active, outdoor environment, while studying more intensively.

In 2013/14, while nearing the end of my degree, my dream role arose and my new adventure begins. Located in Sydney, I will be a full-time chaplain building a new Uniting Church worshipping community that belongs to Australian culture in the 21st century, while developing an outreach centre to reach non-churched people.

My theological studies have equipped me to grapple with real issues facing the Church today, whilst serving in the community and attempting to discern how to bridge the gap between them.

The adventure continues…

Karen Paull

“After telling God during my Period of Discernment “There was no way I was going to study full time”, I found myself commencing a three year Bachelor of Ministry at Uniting College. Never tell God your plans!”

“I was living in Broken Hill and it had been 35 years since I’d left high school. Yet, I knew God was with me, comforting and guiding me, opening doors that for years I had chosen to ignore, calling me to follow his purpose. So, I came to Adelaide, moved in with my son and commenced study. I really missed my husband and friends but the support and friendship I experienced from my lecturers and fellow students helped me get through the first year.”

“I returned home in my second year as I was able to complete my subjects via distance or as short-term intensives.”

“It was while I was undertaking field education with Frontier Services Flying Patrol that I became deeply aware of the diversity of rural ministry as well as the lack of mental health beds in rural hospitals and the number of suicides in the community.”

“I knew when God was calling me into ministry it would be into a rural community. My experience with Frontier Services showed me exactly where I was being called to. I concentrated my studies on grief and loss and completing courses in mental health first aid and applied suicide intervention skills.

“Since I graduated from Uniting College, I have been ordained as a Minister of the Word by the Macquarie Darling Presbytery and taken up a placement at Frontier Services in Broken Hill. I now spend 50 per cent of my time looking after people in the Cobar and Nyngan congregations and the other 50 percent visiting people on isolated properties and communities in the area.”

“I see ministry as a vocation where I am called by God to love everyone as I would like to be loved, to treat everyone as I would like to be treated, to help others on their own journey of faith, and to serve God wherever he calls me.”

“While studying at theological college, I was constantly reminded that we all have gifts and abilities that are unique to us and it is our responsibility to use them. God will use all of our combined gifts and abilities to build strong leaders for our communities so that the Uniting Church has a future and continues to fulfil his plan.”

Jo-anne Smallbil
Bachelor of Ministry Graduate and Minister of the Word

Being Youth Pastor was a great privilege and a very rewarding vocation. What I loved most was the learning my team and I did together as we discerned God’s will for the youth and young adults of our church.

Nathan Whillas
Bachelor of Ministry graduate, ordained minister serving Loxton and Renmark and former Youth Minister at Parafield Gardens Uniting Church