The Presbyterian Fellowship
Men and Women -
Equal in Christ,
Equal in Mission"
Remit on changes to the Rules on the Appointment of Pastoral Assistants in Congregations

Commissioners to the New South Wales General Assembly in July 2010 will remember the overture from the Ministry and Mission Committee on amendments to the Code dealing with Pastoral Assistance in congregations.

A “pastoral assistant” in this case would be understood to be a person whose suitability for the task i.e as minister, licentiate, ministry candidate, home missionary or deaconess, would have to have been tested by a presbytery.

This overture would normally have been as exciting as watching paint dry except that at one stage the overturists referred to the fact that under the new rules “unsupervised” female pastoral assistants would need to have a male supervising them but men in that position would not be so encumbered. The term “unsupervised”, in this instance, was defined in the wording of the new rules as referring to assistants who “may serve without direct supervision of the Moderator in a sphere which may be geographically remote from the Moderator”. It follows that the rules specified that only males could be unsupervised assistants in parishes. The reason put forward was the Moore College doctrine that only males had authority in the church.

Those who were present at this time would have noted the intake of breath around the room especially from the women present.

There are a number of absurdities in this position, the primary one being the fact that more remote congregations would be denied any kind of pastoral assistance if a male were to be unavailable even if a perfectly suitable female could be found.

The second absurdity is that under the Presbyterian system of government every person holding office is under the jurisdiction of a court of the church or one sort or another, whose membership comprises persons of equal status, some of whom may be women. In that light the use of the term “unsupervised” makes no sense.

The legalists will argue that supervision and jurisdiction mean different things, the former implying a direct mentoring or heirarchical relationship. If this is the case why would a person’s gender be a guarantee of their capability in a remote independent area of service.

Finally we still have women ministers serving in this state. It is illogical, and probably not competent, to make a condition in our rules which would exclude those women from serving in such a capacity if they wish to do so. It would be far simpler to exclude any reference to gender in the regulations.
We live in an era where it is almost universally accepted that women can hold any high office in the land. It is small wonder that the Christian Church, with its archaic attitudes to gender, is held up everywhere as a joke. It’s about time we did something about it.

This overture was sent down to presbyteries for consideration and report. It is probably coming to a presbytery near you soon. Commissioners in Presbyteries and Assemblies should not allow it to be passed cursorily but should consider its wording with great care.

What can you do?

Firstly, object to the inclusion of any kind of gender test for office. It is an unnecessary inclusion and a stumbling block to progressively-minded people, putting a barrier up against the people in the community that the church is trying to reach.
Secondly, demand a clearer set of definitions especially for such terms as supervision, pastoral assistant.
Ultimately we want a church that proclaims a Christian faith relevant to the 21st Century. Commissioners will show great wisdom in being constantly vigilant to ensure that that ideal is maintained.