1. CENTRAL BAPTIST CHURCH: Halfway through 1971 the deacons of the Central Baptist Church in downtown Sydney - Australia's first-established Baptist Church - approached me and asked if I would conduct an interim ministry for them. They were looking for a full-time pastor, and wanted someone to be the key preacher/pastor in the meantime. It seemed a good idea, and we had eighteen happy months there.
One of the challenges for this congregation was to continue to reach out to the Chinese community in Haymarket - which I feel they did well. The services were translated into Chinese and every Sunday we joined the Chinese people for lunch in the basement. But with the experience I had had with students I challenged the church to reach out to the thousands of nurses and students within their catchment area. Because I did not intend to stay I believed it was my job to 'open the windows' and prepare this very conservative congregation for change. We loosened up the services, I preached on topics of interest to students... and they started coming in dozens. On our last Sundays eighteen months later the church sanctuary and the gallery were full.
But these new people were not members, and had no power in terms of selecting a future pastor. About 8-9 months into our ministry there the deacons unanimously invited me to consider the full-time pastorate at 'Central'. I was hesitant, and I told them I would not have led in freeing up the whole place if I knew I'd be a candidate for the pastorate. The deacons insisted: so I agreed for my name to go to a meeting of members for a vote. I have a document which was agreed upon: continue to write church radio news for the Christian Broadcasting Association a half-day a week; continue to study for the Master of Education degree; and be free to preach elsewhere one day a month - particularly among students - Australian and overseas - and nurses. Proposed salary: Weekly stipend $100, Car Allowance $16 per week, Manse (or rent of $40 per week), Telephone $4 per week (approx!).
Here's an interesting paragraph in the Statement: 'Some changes in the church organization and methods which may assist in the further development of the church as a whole and which should be thoroughly examined by the diaconate are: (i) a possible split of the diaconate into two sections, an Administrative group and a Pastoral group; (ii) the work of the Church Council transferred to the full diaconate with committee leaders reporting directly to them; (iii) Any venture which is outside the church programme and budget but approved by the church should be proceeded with in faith; (iv) a Communion Service in a revised form to be reinstituted on Sunday evenings.'
That church business meeting was interesting: people who there whom very few knew: but, yes, they were on the roll; and obviously rounded up by phone for the occasion. I just lost the 2/3 vote, and the deacons were disappointed. So much so that they came back to me and asked for me to stay on anyway, and they would re-submit my name later. I told them I would pray about it.
In the meantime three ministries 'headhunted' me: the South Australian Baptist Union to be a Christian Education person; Carey Baptist Grammar School in Melbourne to be their senior chaplain; and Blackburn Baptist Church to be senior pastor. I did what I've only rarely done: put it all into four columns, listed the variables down the side of the page, and prayerfully weighed up the pros and cons. BBC came out on top, and rest, as they say (again) is history...
2. OTHER INTERIMS
Here are other churches I've served in an Interim or part-time capacity - from a couple of months to a couple of years, roughly in chronological order, and one or two key memories:
ETTALONG BAPTIST CHURCH NSW. The church had filled the swimming-pool in the back-yard of the Manse with dirt, because (apparently) the pastor shouldn't be regarded as having any luxurious privileges some of the congregation didn't enjoy!
In 1984 I was surprised to read this in a Christian magazine: '... The early morning light of that Christmas Day shone upon me as I knelt in a nearby church, and the minister led me in prayers of repentance and renunciation of the satanic ouija board. Its predictions never came to pass, because now I had tapped into a higher power which shattered the evil predictions and rendered them void and useless.' I was privileged to be that pastor at Ettalong Baptist Church that day.
ASHFIELD BAPTIST CHURCH NSW. I was youth pastor for a year, and enjoyed the preaching ministry of John Curtis. When I suggested that future 'church prayer meetings' would probably move away from mid-week church-wide events to small groups it was greeted with severe skepticism!
GYMEA BAPTIST CHURCH NSW. We went there after the Vancouver adventure. The secretary was sure we were called to pastor the church. Stayed with a lovely family - the Mapstones - all four of us. Jan I and our two girls learned to water-ski on the Georges River. The church eventually called Ross Clifford, now principal of Morling (Baptist) College and recently President of the Baptist Union of Australia, who had a good ministry there.
WANDIN BAPTIST CHURCH VICTORIA. My main memories surrounded the purchase of the property next to the little old church building (we met in the senior citizens' set-up across the road: I attended the opening of their new church building earlier this year (2010) and felt the church was in good hands!); and also the significant number of hurting people in the church. The secretary committed suicide a couple of years after I left. This one-year ministry helped us financially after the commencement of John Mark Ministries - a 'faith-ministry' with no other guaranteed income.
GLEN EIRA COMMUNITY CHRISTIAN CHURCH (BAPTIST) VICTORIA. The outstanding feature of this church was the wonderful way they blessed people who left (and unfortunately there have been quite a few). Mick and Dorrie Terrington and their family were the 'core group' in the church, supported by some other beautiful families and people. It was a privilege to have been there for several years, and to visit occasionally since... The church has unfortunately shrunk in size, but now concentrates on a ministry to Indian families under the leadership of John Piercey.