Dan Wooding of Assist News Service is one Christian media veteran who is on the pulse. One of the more entertaining stories he publishes each year is how The Twurch of England runs a poll for the Vicar of the Year.
The Twurch of England 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 have run the Vicar of the Year poll.
The late Reverend Dr Gordon Moyes AC would have certainly been way up there had such a poll been taken in Australia in this past 12 months. Other high profile ministers such as Tim Costello, Brian Houston and Phil Pringle would be listed due to their high media profile.
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 with all those above and included me in that 25.
My profile comes from founding the Sports ministry in 1982, the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years, the Australian Institute of Sport elite athlete respite, the Olympic ministry, multiple author and in more recent years as a daily columnist, mentoring 85 young writers for Christian Today and the missionary respite facility at Laguna Quays Respite. These are all specialist areas in ministry.
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.
I am reminded of the 1979 Sydney Billy Graham Crusade when as a young pastor at the Croydon Park Baptist Church, in my third year at Morling Seminary and this little church put a big emphasis on the Crusade. We saw astonishing growth in the congregation. As a result, I won Morling's prestigious "Evangelism Prize' and I maintain, any half committed pastor would have seen the same evangelism phenomena as everything fell into place, like falling dominoes.
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 me, but all the pieces were not there for the growth explosion as I witnessed in a city.
Therefore in my view, regional and rural congregations face situations that are extremely difficult. I admired the late Reverend Dr Gordon Moyes AC as he 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 I as a young man visited on many occasions, when courting the young lady (now my wife of 38 years). Reverend Coan said their rural Ministry was preparing the teenagers in their congregation for life, for when they left home to attend university or to the cities for work.
The Maclean (Lower Clarence) 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'.
In my 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 or woman 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 my 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 who spent a number of years in Rockhampton in Queensland and has since been relocated to Melbourne. Prior to these appointment Peter was the Salvation Army publications head editor (including Warcry magazine). His pastoral role was been heralded in the Rockhampton Floods Relief program on that period.
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 Troude Street Christian Family Church and whose men's fellowship is one of the highlights of the congregation. In my Country Town Tour ministry travels I 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 our 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. They have now relcoated to Yaidley near Brisbane.
On one such Country Town Tour Euan McDonald took me 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. I was looking through the magazines in the Year 12 class room and found an Inside Sport magazine from 1998 with a feature article about myself as then the Australian cricket team chaplain and a photograph of me at the Adelaide Oval. I 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 established.
Therefore, my vote for the Australian Vicar of the Year goes to the unsung minister, usually with a few knives on their backs, and if your minister / pastor is one of these, rejoice as there is an angelic choir celebrating to the Lord their service. More so, their wife and long suffering children. Some things bring me to tears, this is one of them.
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 mentors young writers and 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 http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html