This past weekend a very important conference took place at URCSA Midros, Middelburg in the Karoo where the Presbytery of Graaff-Reinet met.

Rev. Stephen Pedro, MSS of Congregational Ministry, facilitated the first of a series of conferences commissioned by a Synod resolution mandating him to initiate presbytery discussions on how to reach workable solutions for congregations without a full- or part-time minister (vacant congregations).

There were 34 participants with two pastors representing eleven of the thirteen congregations. It was a very blessed conference and they received good feedback.

Rev. Pedro started the conversations with questions such as: “What is happening?”, “Why is this happening?” and “How can we turn the ship around by serving vacant congregations in a sustainable way?”

For example, in the Presbytery of Graaff-Reinet with 13 congregations, there are only three ministers – two full-time and one a tentmaker; ten of the congregations are vacant. Rev. Stuurman is a tentmaker and serves the Xhosa congregation in Middelburg. The other two ministers are Rev. Petrus Gysman (Graaff-Reinet) and Rev. Bradley Stoffels (Somerset-East).

During the conference, Rev. Pedro put the following suggestions forward for discussion by the presbytery:

  • the practice of relieving ministers (konsulentskappe) needs to be reconsidered, as it is practically unsustainable;
  • the practice of tent-making ministry must also be encouraged (as rightly already happens with the two-career training) so that ministers are not 100% dependent on their congregations to maintain them;
  • new ministry models that are responsive, sustainable, needs-orientated and vision-driven are needed for this new age in which we must be the church;
  • alternatives such as the training of members as “lay-ministers” with certain functionalities need to be considered, as already been practised by various churches like the Dutch Reformed Church – members are trained in preaching and pastorate and then take responsibility for those specific ministries;
  • proponents can be appointed for a few months and Witness Ministry will then, like the past three years, support them financially; the congregations involved are then guided through a faith-discerning journey by means of discussions and workshops, facilitated by the MSS and trained congregational facilitators;
  • combination congregations are also an option: congregations that are geographically close to each other may consider combining; each congregation retains its independence, but their congregational vision and ministry become one – together they then call a minister who ministers to the two or three congregations according to an agreed contract;
  • the Intermediate Order of the Cape Regional Synods (URCSA and Dutch Reformed Church) must help us see how to work together in a more structured way; Britstown, Bredasdorp and Touws River can serve as examples here.

Rev. Babalwa Sifuba also attended the conference and introduced the participants to the Contextual Bible Reading Method (). She did an appetizer session with them about it and will follow it up with a workshop during which she will identify and later on train these potential CBR facilitators.

We thank the Lord for this very blessed conference and its facilitation by Congregational Ministry.

Contact Stephen Pedro at [email protected] for more information.