The Twurch of England www.twurchofengland.co.uk is a twitter aggregator for the Church of England and presents a live feed of tweets from people and organisations that represent the Church of England in some official capacity, and is the only kind of web community of its kind in the UK.
The Twurch follows Readers, Religious, Ordinands, Diocesan Staff and National Organisations and the site recently asked visitors to vote for Vicar of the Year with Canon Andrew White, Vicar of Baghdad, won handily for "his extraordinary work at St George's, Baghdad whilst receiving treatment for MS" (33%, 27 Votes).
Well-Being Australia's chairman Mark Tronson gave this same question some thought as there would be few ministers who would have travelled as much as he has in his 35 year ministry, 17 as the Australian cricket team chaplain, for many years on the international preaching circuit, and since 2001 with Life After Cricket and the Respite ministry for elite athletes, the cricket fraternity and missionaries.
Moreover in 2005 LIFE magazine ran a poll among senior clergy across the United States and announced the 25 most influential American evangelicals. New Life an Australian Christian bi-weekly newspaper following suit, ran a similar poll of Australia's top 25 most influential evangelicals and Mark Tronson was published in that 25.
In addition, Mark Tronson in his travels, when visiting churches and Christian missions has placed an inordinate emphasis on regional local churches whose whole operation is at grass roots level. He has spoken at innumerable men's breakfasts and dinners in such low key Christian works where the hard yards are engaged.
He claims that it is one thing to run a youth program with a large multi-instrumental band in a big city where the draw card is that of hundreds of young people, (as a politician of 30 years ago said, a drover's dog could do it), it is quite another in a regional town to be ever frustrated with the youth work with very limited resources and opportunities, yet herein is the core of young Christians who see a grass roots commitment as their calling card.
Mark Tronson was reminded of the 1979 Sydney Billy Graham Crusade when he was a young pastor at the Croydon Park Baptist Church. He was in his third year at Morling Seminary and this little church put a big emphasis on this Billy Graham Crusade and saw an astonishing growth in their congregation. As a result, Mark Tronson also won Morling's prestigious "Evangelism Prize'. He still maintains that any half committed pastor would have seen the same evangelism phenomena as everything fell into place.
Regional and Rural Australia
The same church growth results were not witnessed in regional and rural Australia who took the Billy Graham Crusade on 'land line' where people listened on churches or community halls. Yet those pastors were as committed as he, but all the pieces were not there for the growth explosion he witnessed in a city.
Therefore in his view, regional and rural congregations face situations that are extremely difficult. He's always admired Reverend Dr Gordon Moyes AC who was for 25 years the Superintendent of Wesley Mission in Sydney with Australia's largest corporate church of 55 congregations and a breadth of community ministry that took one's breath away: yet Dr Moyes took special pleasure in visiting regional and rural Australia.
The late Reverend Frank Coan who was the Baptist Minister for some years in Maclean on the north coast of New South Wales in the early 70's where Mark Tronson as a young man visited on many occasions, when courting the young lady who is his now wife of 35 years. Reverend Coan said their Ministry was preparing their teenagers for life, when they left home to attend university or to the cities for work.
The Maclean ministry as with innumerable other little towns, have this one enormous spiritual undertaking, that of preparing their young people, alerting them to the pitfalls of being thrown into the world of 'all-that-glitters'.
Therefore in Mark Tronson's view, any Vicar of the Year Australian award could not possibly go to a television religious super-star or some pin stripped mega church main line Protestant pastor from the city, but rather, by a-country-mile, a man of commitment and devotion to the regional or rural Gospel Calling, in spite of the difficulties and hardships and frustrations.
Four such 'types' as examples
In Mark Tronson's view there are thousands of such loyal regional and rural preachers who would qualify for the 'Vicar of the Year Australia' award. Here are four such 'types' and examples given to illustrate who should get those Australian honours. These are real heroes, but none more so than others in the same position.
One such 'type' are those involved in grass roots ministry – such as Salvation Army Officer Peter McGuigan from Rockhampton in Queensland who for the past three years has been back in Parish ministry after a life time in Salvation Army publications and heading up the Warcry magazine. His role has been heralded in the Rockhampton Floods Relief program.
Peter McGuigan was interviewed for the Australian Missionary News IPTV in 2010 for one of his roles with the Australasian Religious Press Association.
Another such 'type' is from a regional town, an example is that of Albany in the far south of Western Australia, a Pentecostal preacher Norm Batty who pastors the Troode Street Christian Family Church and whose men's fellowship is one of the highlights of the congregation. In Mark Tronson's Country Town Tour ministry travels he spoke at their men's fellowship and moreover, enjoyed a bountiful time with Norm Batty himself.
A third 'type' is from a fast growing mining hub, an example from Mackay Queensland, Uniting Church ministers Euan and Yvonne McDonald. The Iona (West Mackay) Uniting Church has hosted a number of Mark Tronson's Country Town Tours with sport coaches and have worked tirelessly in developing their youth work from high schoolers to twenties' something. Yvonne for her part ministers to communities in the broader Mackay district such as Eungella and more recently Calen.
On one such Country Town Tour Euan McDonald took him to the Calen High-Up School (refers to a school that encompasses infants all the way to Year 12). Calen is about 40 minutes north of Mackay. Mark Tronson was looking through the magazines in the Year 12 class room and found an Inside Sport magazine from 1998 with a feature article about himself as then the Australian cricket team chaplain and a photograph of himself at the Adelaide Oval. He was then able to use that magazine to illustrate the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The fourth 'type' is one who can put projects together, an example of such a preacher is the Reverend Dr Russell Hinds whose reputation has been his remarkable organisational abilities in seeing numerous multi-purpose church buildings go up over a weekend. With local Council approval and the concrete slab poured, volunteers from around Australia come together over a three day weekend and see it rise to completion. He now consults with congregations who likewise engaged in such constructions.
Russell Hinds remarkable gifting is his ability to start with a small number of people, around 12 and grow a church to 600. He then moves on and initiates another such congregation, twice on the Gold Coast alone. He has now started again, this time in a small coastal community in the Tweed at Cabarita and is shortly to initiate two churches in new housing estates. His interview by the Australian Missionary News IPTV may be viewed on YouTube.
These are examples of 'types' of the Australian Vicars' of Year, these are unsung champions who are faced with regional and rural situations and are highly acclaimed in the heavenlies, and at least, by Mark Tronson.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html