New approach to western Southland ministry

A church in western Southland has taken a proactive approach to counter declining numbers at church services by introducing a new position that it hopes will help spread its message further than ever before.
Tuatapere Presbyterian Church last weekend inaugurated its first Community Chaplain, a position that encompasses everything from counselling services, weddings and funerals to regular Sunday church sessions.

Session clerk for the Tuatapere Presbyterian Church, Chris Howden said the church had been without a full-time minister for five years, and the idea for this position came about as a way of helping integrate the church further into the community.

“With the lower numbers involved physically within the church, it became increasingly harder to provide for the needs, and be of service in and around our community. The vision for the community chaplain came about through this. We had strong support from the Western Southland churches, both financially and with encouragement, and after approaching Otago/ Southland Synod, we were able to secure funding for three years to employ a community chaplain.

“It is more about the church looking outside into the wider community, its needs and concerns, and providing support with pastoral care,” he said Mr Howden said they would have been excited to receive three or four applications, but were inundated with close to 20 applications, including several from the United States.

In the end they hired David Duthie, who has served in a variety of different areas across the country, including as a church pastor, prison and school chaplaincy, community work and working with an international mission agency.

Mr Duthie said he saw the role as a “privilege”.

“A chaplain is able to provide hope and strength for the journey of life through their gentle presence, care and faith helping them to become all that they were created to be… I see the role as a privilege in sharing in people’s lives, often when they are quite vulnerable.”

He was sworn in at a ceremony in Tuatapere on Sunday in front of close to 80 people and was looking forward to meeting the locals and getting to work across the region.

Mr Howden said Mr Duthie’s role was more important than ever, despite many people seemingly distancing themselves from religion and their local church.

He said the model had worked in other areas of the country as well as in other denominations, with the Anglican Church adopting a similar position in several rural spots across New Zealand.

It was important for people to feel they were able to be supported, no matter what they were going through and have access to services no matter where they were located Mr Howden said.

“The more we are connected, the more we seem to actually become isolated. I don’t want to sound morbid or anything but the suicide rates are pretty bad now and people suffer a lot from depression and all these sort of things that seem to be in our society. We’ve never had more tools to get closer and connect people together and yet we still have these sorts of issues that we can never seem to get away from.

“Do we dig deeper and find out what is really behind it all, or do we just try and treat the symptoms? That’s all part of what we’re looking at with this… chaplain’s role. In a word you could probably some it up as a mission to the community,” he said.

“There are missions where people go off overseas into different cultures, but in our own society as well, we need to think about being close at home as well.”

This article was originally written for The Advocate. You can read the published version here

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