By Word and by Deed

Lay People in the Uniting Church – learning and living the Faith, and making a difference 
David Houston has headed a team of Christian educators to capture the Uniting Church's long commitment to the education of lay leaders since its inception and in its former denominations. This is an incredibly thorough history of lay education that provides a treasury of excellent theory and practice as well as documenting the history of these enterprises.

 The Authors:

David HoustonChapters 1-9 and 13

David provides the historical framework and illustrative story of the different periods, and some theological reflection on the Church’s experience of it.  He is a former Director of the Lay Education Centre and Lay Ministry Consultant for the Synod of South Australia. He was appointed to those positions in 1989, and then as lecturer in Lay Ministries Studies at Parkin Wesley College from 1994 until retirement in 1997.


Deidre Palmer – Chapter 10

Deidre has focussed on the importance of Christian Education to the equipping of the Church for mission. She was a faculty member at Parkin Wesley College and Lecturer in Christian Education from July 1998 to December 2004. Deidre is currently an adjunct faculty member for Uniting College, teaching Christian education and ministry with families and children. She has been involved in theological education in ecumenical settings for over 25 years.

Craig Mitchell – Chapter 11

Craig describes the significant changes that took place in lay education and theological education generally between 2005-2010. He was the Lecturer in Lay Ministries Studies at Parkin Wesley College from 2005-2009, and then Director of Christian Education and Discipleship 2010-2011 within the new Uniting College for Leadership and Theology. His experience in youth and children ministry, Christian education and leadership development is reflected in this and other earlier chapters.


Tim Hein – Chapter 12

Tim describes the new approaches in educating members in congregations for leadership and ministry into the future.  He is the Vice Principal & Director of Discipleship at Uniting College for Leadership & Theology, and, through its ACD link to Flinders University, he is also an Associate Lecturer, Flinders University.  Tim brings a ‘faith and work’ ministry in the workplace emphasis.  He has been in his present placement at Uniting College since 2011.  


More complete biographical notes on each author appear in the appendices.





From the earliest days of our settlement in South Australia, lay members of Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian congregations played a very influential part in shaping the beginnings of their faith communities.  In descriptions we would use today, they were ‘members together in Christ’, and ‘were endowed...with a diversity of gifts.’  They intrinsically knew they were ‘called’ to encourage each other in faith, and minister to others around them in the name of Jesus Christ.  As in the Colossian church, these early lay leaders worked together ‘by word and by deed’ to establish caring and compassionate communities of faith. (Col. 3:12-17) 


In numerous cases, without the appointment of an ordained minister they provided the essential leadership needed to commence congregations, conduct worship, and nurture fellowship and spiritual life within their traditions. Importantly, they also contributed to the growth and character of the wider community life within the settlement. In language we would use today, they lived their mission and ministry ‘beyond the congregation’.


By the time we come to the beginning of the 20th Century we see both a nurturing of members for leadership in local congregations, and a developing picture of leadership training for lay people in both centralised and regional programs.  During the 1950’s and on into the 1970’s, well structured, specific lay education and training courses emerged.  The world had also become a ‘smaller’ place and global programs in Christian education would help us think in new ways.


The ecumenical movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s – in which our churches actively participated, re-affirmed that The Church was all about ‘community’ and ‘mutuality’ in Christ.  This energised and transformed for many the way we thought and acted as his followers.  The Church and Life Movement and the Action for World Development programs emerged in this period to give witness to it.  Local Inter-Church Councils encouraged and supported by the South Australian Council of Churches brought members of the various denominations together in shared local programs.


Following Church Union in 1977, paragraph 13 of our Basis of Union guided our thinking around every member having a gift for ministry.  We embraced the understanding that ‘...all ministries have a part in the ministry of Christ’ with new enthusiasm.  And paragraph 14 proposed the way we would ‘...recognise from among the members, men and women called of lead the people...’.  Members in every congregation became an important part of local ministry in a renewed manner.


Approaching and after Church Union, Rev. Graham Smith and Rev. Ian Tanner helped to show us how education programs in leadership and ministry training for lay students could be structured in a residential and campus setting.


Over the next 25 years the preparation of lay people for leadership and ministry areas reached a high point.  Areas for ministry broadened as demographics and communities were changing.  The gifts and abilities of lay people came to be important and training to equip them was needed in centralised, regional and local programs. 


As this development evolved, other denominations experienced a similar reality, and cooperative planning for lay ministry education with the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches commencing in 1994.  New programs and shared learning followed. Cooperative preparation of people for ordained ministries by the three denominations had been begun earlier in 1979.


In 1997, Parkin Wesley College, together with the Anglican and Catholic Theological Colleges relocated to share the new Adelaide Theological Colleges Campus at Brooklyn Park.  From this point an increased number of lay students enrolled in the Certificate and later Diploma in Pastoral Ministry programs of the ACD courses.  Education and training in many areas of pastoral ministry received wide interest and recognition.  Young people were offered ‘gap year’ opportunities in semester length programs that were focused on Christian discipleship in the world of study and work.  Active church members of all ages were seeking to prepare seriously for mission.


However, after 10 years at the shared campus, significant structural changes occurred.  The costs of providing education for the ordained ministries at the ATCC had increased, while each of the Churches’ general finances were diminishing.  An exhaustive review took place over three years 2006-2008, resulting in the Anglican and Catholic Colleges reluctantly withdrawing.  The Uniting Church College became the single provider of the accredited higher education and VET programs through a revised Adelaide College of Divinity structure.


Over the same period our Synod was undertaking a review of its own approach to theological education and ministry training.  After three years of review and conversation, a new model for preparing people for all forms of ministry was introduced.  Its focus would be on Christian leadership and missional education.  In 2009, during a special session of the Synod, Parkin Wesley was formally closed and a new entity, the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology constituted.  The approach to preparing people for both lay and ordained leadership and ministry had been re-energised for the next part of the Church’s journey.


By Word and by Deed seeks to describe some of the story of providing education and training for lay ministries over 180 years.  It contains snapshots of what occurred within each denomination in the earlier histories, then from Church Union in 1977 to the present.


In the earlier chapters more references are made to Methodist developments only because Methodism was larger and more widely established in those early years.  Each period has a much larger story to tell, and I am sure other valuable and relevant references could have been included.  However, my hope is that the account is sufficiently detailed as to describe for readers the contribution gifted and ‘called’ lay leaders have made to our Church’s life and witness in the world.


Published histories, church documents and personal stories capture some of the moments of how the education and training programs were both important and timely.  The leadership of lay members of the church both within and beyond their congregations illustrates their vitality and capacity to lead and serve in Christ’s name.


Our evangelical and reformed theologies have shaped who we are.  Our worship, traditions and missional interests reflect both our diversity and unity.  We can see where inspired ordained and lay leaders have emerged, and in partnership they have led us into creative new phases of life and witness as a Church.

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