BCWA Commissions new Director of Ministries

"Significant occasion" marks commissioning of Director of Ministries

On Thursday 17 February, the Baptist community from around Western Australia gathered to celebrate the commissioning of Pastor Victor Owuor as the new Baptist Churches Western Australia Director of Ministries.

This was a “rare occasion… and significant occasion” shared North Beach Baptist Church Senior Pastor, Grant Hendry as he welcomed guests to North Beach Baptist Church. 

Grant shared that it had been fourteen years since the last Director of Ministries (DOM), Pastor Mark Wilson had been commissioned to the role and that in this time, significant societal change had occurred.

Dr Carolyn Tan, a member of the DOM Search Team shared about the process that had been undertaken prior to Victor’s nomination and appointment at the 2021 Annual Assembly.

Representatives of the Union Council, Australian Baptist Ministries and North Beach Baptist Church pray for Pastor Victor Owuor and wife Mary as he is commissioned to his new role as Director of Ministries.

Carolyn shared that the Union Council, along with a facilitation group mapped a journey of discernment that enabled attentive listening to stakeholders from around the state and that the learning from these engagements assisted the Council to shape a job description that met the leadership needs of BCWA.

She shared that the search team, armed with this refined job description then started the process of advertising the role and through an extensive process that incorporated significant times of prayer, Victor was unanimously recommended to the Council and the Assembly as the nominee for the role.

In an email communication to churches following the Assembly, Interim Director of Ministries, Pastor Karen Siggins shared that Victor’s appointment “reflects the need articulated in various recent conversations across BCWA for a leader who will help us hold our current place in history with the confidence that God remains sovereign, and that the gospel of Jesus is still good news for all people.”

“Victor embodies this confidence in word and deed. He is also theologically orthodox and generous; a collegial and collaborative leader who is a good listener and one able to facilitate curious and meaningful conversations.”

“Victor is a trusted and authentic communicator able to publicly and courageously hold the tension of difficult issues while staying true to God’s story in the Bible,” she shared.

As part of the evening service, Victor shared about his journey of faith and how it has been shaped and guided by the people around him.

He shared that in the polarised world we live in today, “It is an opportune time for us to redirect our focus in Christ rather than panicking and looking for directions from sources that contradict our faith”

“The churches current difficulties do not surprise our God… he will place people strategically where he wants them to be as He builds His church.”

“Let us position ourselves with the readiness of obedience and endurance” he encouraged.

Council Member, Pastor Wayne Field commissioned Victor to his new role with members of the Union Council, along with Grant Hendry and Mark Wilson laying hands on Victor and his wife Mary in prayer.

More than the sum of our parts

Melissa Lipsett is the Acting CEO, Chief Operating Officer and Director of Missional Impact at Baptist World Aid Australia, a Christian aid and development organisation. Vanessa Klomp had the opportunity to speak with Melissa recently.

What was your journey to becoming a Christian and developing your faith in Christ?

I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. It was an unhappy home for a variety of reasons, so my early years were difficult. I did have some important Christian influences though; my grandmother was deeply faithful and faith-filled, and she tried hard to intervene in my circumstances. She wasn’t able to do that, but I know she prayed for me and my family, and I firmly believe her prayers laid a foundation for what was to come.

I left home at 17 to join the Royal Australian Navy and, to be honest, I was a mess. My family had been split apart by tragedy and I carried deep-rooted guilt and shame. When I was 20 though, a Navy Chaplain opened the pages of the Bible to me and showed me that I wasn’t who I thought I was, but I was who God said I was. It blew my mind, in a good way, and I resolved there and then to become a Christian. I’ve tried to follow Jesus every day since.

How did becoming a Christian change your life?

The other remarkable thing about those early Navy years was that I met a man who would become my husband (now of 38 years). Pete wanted to shield, protect and care for me, but he wasn’t entirely sure about this Jesus thing – he had grown up in a difficult environment too and wasn’t particularly enamoured by the idea of Christianity. But God is good and, within a few months, revealed himself to Pete, too. Now we could together leave past wounds behind and forge a new path. And we did!

We committed ourselves to discipleship and made wonderful, lifelong friends as we learnt more about Jesus and the Christian life together. Longer term friends and family thought we were a little odd, but mostly they accepted who we had become – I like to think that’s because we just tried to love them as much as we could; no lectures, no piousness, just love. In building our family, we tried to live out our faith on a daily basis. I wish I could tell you that my kids have trodden an easy path of faith as a result but it’s not that simple. It hasn’t always been, nor is, all that I hoped or prayed for. But we love our kids deeply and still, every day, trust that God loves them far more than we ever could. We just try to emulate that love.

I can remember telling my kids, “Love Jesus and love the church, and pretty much everything else will fall into place.” On the whole, I still believe that!

You have had a varied career holding a number of leadership positions. Can you share about your previous roles and what led you to your current role with Baptist World Aid Australia?

The Navy was great leadership training – truly foundational – and adding an understanding of servant leadership to that from my faith has made me passionate about the capacity of great leaders to make a difference; that we can (and should) all be leaders in our own sphere of influence.

After the Navy, I moved into serving the local church; I truly believe that the local church, functioning in the way God planned, is the hope of the world! Along the way I studied and was ordained – the latter a pragmatic response to church functioning and the leadership role I believed God was calling me into. I have always been passionate about mission and was able to be part of building an international mission portfolio, with the privilege of supporting a number of locally based missionaries in a range of countries. This brought me real joy and I wanted to learn more, so when the opportunity came to step out of local church life after 20 years and support the work of Bible Society Australia as their Chief Operating Officer, I did.

That gave me extensive opportunities to work crossculturally and internationally; Bible Societies around the world work in over 200 countries – a global reach that very few other organisations have. We opened the pages of the Bible for people, and I was able to witness the transformation that I myself experienced so many years ago.

However, when Baptist World Aid approached me about the possibility of serving with them, I knew it was God’s call. I have become more and more sure that God calls every follower of Jesus to join Him in His work in the world, to usher in a glimpse of His Kingdom here on earth. And I wanted to be a part of that with the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet

What are your hopes for Baptist World Aid Australia as it aims to help transform communities around the globe?

I love Baptist World Aid and I am so proud (already!) of our team, our supporters, our partners and the work we are doing. There is so much more that we can do together though because we are more than the sum of our parts. This really excites me as I know there are so many more people and like-minded organisations who we can partner with to make an even bigger difference. Imagine a huge global movement of people, motivated by the love and call of Jesus, who work to bring about a world where poverty has ended and all people enjoy the fullness of life God intends!

Nothing beats the stories we hear regularly of how God has worked in someone’s life because of our supporters and partners. Like Rubel who was part of a children’s and youth club through our child sponsorship program in Bangladesh. Today, Rubel is a 25 year old husband, father and garment worker who is also raising chickens, skills he learned through the savings club our partners began. He is also studying in an honours program at university and his wife translates the Bible into their local language. Rubel’s life is different today because our Christian partners taught him the skills he needed to bring his family out of poverty. And they’ve been safer and healthier since COVID hit because of hygiene lessons he learned as a child. All because God’s people responded to supporting children in vulnerable countries!

Can you share a highlight from being in this role so far?

There have been so many – meeting our partner churches around Australia, meeting and talking with our passionate and faithful supporters, getting to know the work of our international partners, hearing stories of transformation in and through our international programs and getting to know our terrific staff team who are smart, young and passionate about what they do.

As a leader, what is the biggest challenge in your Christian walk and how do you deal with that challenge?

Being a Christian leader is both a great privilege and responsibility. That is a burden I must be prepared to carry and sometimes it’s heavy. My interior life needs to match seamlessly with the exterior. I know people are looking to me and I don’t want to let them down. I want them to see at least a glimpse of Jesus in me when they do. I’m painfully aware, as my grandmother used to say, that I’m the only Bible some people will ever read, and I know that I don’t always get it right.

Forgiveness is an art form – something that we get better at if we practice for long enough – and we need to forgive ourselves as much as anyone else. I’m still working on that and I have to remember to look to Jesus for my example.

What is your desire for the future generation of Christians and what is a piece of advice you would like to share with them?

I so want them to know that Jesus loves them and that He can handle anything they want to throw at Him – their doubts, confusion, anger, distress. It’s all ok to ‘dump’ on Him because He’ll just keep telling you that He’s there for you.

Sometimes you won’t feel it and you’ll just have to trust and hold on by a fingernail. It’s so worth hanging on though, and I promise you there will be moments when He makes himself known and gives you enough faith and courage to go another round of whatever it is you’re dealing with. And sometimes there will be great joy, which is often disguised as peace that isn’t easy to explain. Mostly, I’ve found that when I respond to God’s call to serve others rather than myself, even in those times I fail to do this well (and there are many) I learn again that the privilege of serving others helps us really live as God intends. I’m convinced of that.

Canoeing over mountains and sitting on well walls

In the early 1800s, American adventurers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase, a parcel of land which extended US sovereignty and nearly doubled the size of the country as it was at the time.

The hope had been to find a waterway that went right across the country to the Pacific Ocean, and it had been commonly accepted by experts for about 300 years that this would likely be an extension of the mighty Missouri River. There was little doubt that the waterway was there – it just had to be found.

There were years of preparation before the expedition set off. Then, after 15 months of extremely difficult travel and a lot of canoeing, Lewis and Clark and their team arrived at a promising hill. Lewis’s journal makes it clear that as he contemplated the hill in front of him, he fully expected that the next morning when they walked to the top they would strap their canoes to their backs, take a half-day hike and find a navigable river that would take them all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Crest the hill, find the water and canoe to the finish line. What Lewis and Clark saw when they crested the hill was what we now know as the Rocky Mountains – more than 4,800 kilometres of mountain ranges! What lay ahead of them was nothing like they had expected, prepared for and planned to navigate. They had canoed upriver to this point and had expected to canoe on into the new world. But how do you canoe over mountains? Well, you don’t, do you? As Lewis and Clark looked at the Rocky Mountains so unexpectedly laid out in front of them, it seemed that their adventure was done. They would make their report to the President and he would no doubt send another expedition team better equipped for mountain ranges to find a way to the Pacific Ocean. This is not what Lewis and Clark did. Lewis notes in his journal that they “proceeded on”. I read the story of Lewis and Clark in Canoeing the Mountains – Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger, who uses it as a rather brilliant metaphor for some of the current challenges facing the Christian church. In many ways, churches in the western world are standing at the top of a hill looking at a seemingly endless set of rugged mountain ranges which we really didn’t expect to see.

Standing there, our canoes can feel rather heavy and even foolish! Without a doubt we are living in a world that is changing rapidly and this can be an unsettling place to be. As Mark McCrindle and Ashley Fell write in Generation Alpha – Understanding Our Children and Helping Them Thrive, “Change is not unique to this era, but the speed, size and scope of the change that defines our current times is truly unprecedented (we know because, according to our research, ‘change’ was one of the most overused words in 2020)!” Some of us thrive on change but for many of us it can be overwhelming, exhausting and disconcerting. For most of us it is very uncomfortable to live in the neither here nor there places; to live in what are called ‘liminal spaces.’ In her book, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, Susan Beaumont explains that the Latin origins of the word ‘liminal’ come from the word ‘limen’, which means the stone at the threshold of a door you must physically step on to cross from one space into another. Beaumont also reminds us that human beings naturally respond in one of two ways to threshold places. We either bind up our anxiety by throwing all our energy into going back to what is familiar, or we rush forward to a future still undefined and unknown. The old story of the exodus of the Israelite people is a great example. They were either waxing lyrical about how wonderful Egypt was and wishing they could go back, or they were on at Moses demanding he get them to the new place quickly! Like Lewis and Clark and the Israelites, we all stand at thresholds many times in our lives – starting school, adolescence, finishing school, new jobs, new homes, new friends, changing health, parenting, death, relational breakdown, empty nesting and more. In fact, Christian faith itself is a threshold experience, isn’t it? Susan Beaumont writes, “The Christian story is, by design, an invitation into liminality. The hoped-for reign of God is already inaugurated in the figure of Jesus Christ, but not yet complete … We are already redeemed, but the fulfilment of that 

redemption will not be complete until the end times when Christ returns. Our theology frames an identity for us of a semi-permanent liminality.” As local churches we stand at a threshold. This is true both generally in terms of God’s story and specifically in terms of the cultural changes sweeping through our country and much of the world. So how do we steady ourselves so that we can live well and wisely in this in-between space? Not rushing back to the comfort of what is familiar nor hastily forward to what is yet unknown? Perhaps by remembering again what it is that shapes and directs all of human history – God and His story. God designed us in His image to be together (one) in good relationship with Him, with each other and with all of the created world. We were designed for a ‘oneness’ that became otherness when we turned against God and each other, to borrow from Scot McKnight in The Blue Parakeet. Thankfully this oneness has been and is being restored in Jesus. And in the threshold space of Jesus’ first and second coming, God is working out this restoring of oneness (redemption) through His people – first Israel and now the church. Lewis and Clark steadied themselves by remembering they were first of all adventurers and explorers for their country – an unexpected twist in their expedition didn’t discount that. Their canoes were suddenly out of place, but their mission hadn’t changed! We can steady ourselves in this threshold space by remembering that God’s story is still the story that holds human history, by remembering that the church is still God’s people and that the mission of God’s people is to love God and love others. I am brought back again and again to these words of Jesus: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-40] Which brings us to well walls … in the threshold place, both in terms of God’s story and the particular cultural changes of our time, Jesus has shown us a way to live.

Just as He did with the woman at the well in Samaria, Jesus invites us to sit with each other and with people in our wider communities. He invites us to live in the threshold place by leaning in and listening. Listening as an act of love. Listening to each other across differences, so that we can start to understand what life is like for the other. In the love, grace and kindness of that sacred space we will find, just as Jesus did, a place to tell our own stories and how they are part of God’s story. If we can sit patiently in this threshold time of ours, if we intentionally look for well walls to sit on and choose to lean in to listen across differences as an act of love, then I think our community will see again that God and His people can be trusted and have something life-giving to bring to the table.

Author – Karen Siggins

Karen Siggins is the Interim Director of Ministries at Baptist Churches Western Australia. Previously she was the Lead Pastor at Lesmurdie Baptist Church, and was in pastoral ministry at the church for over 16 years.

Lifting the veil on violence

The Standing Committee of the Anglican Church of Australia has made ten commitments to prevent and respond to intimate partner violence (IPV), after undertaking the first known Australian Church study into the prevalence of IPV within its faith community.

IPV is defined as behaviour within an intimate relationship that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours.

IPV is defined as behaviour within an intimate relationship that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours. The Australian Institute of Family Studies states that IPV is the most common form of family violence used against women in Australia and takes place across all cultures and faith groups.

Convenor of the Anglican Church of Australia’s Family Violence Working Group, Rev. Tracy Lauersen, said the Church has deliberately taken the lead on a broader societal issue. “Following considerable public discussion in 2016 about IPV, we felt duty-bound to better understand its nature and prevalence in our community and develop and implement more effective responses,” she said. “As a result, we embarked on a two-year project – three in-depth research reports into the prevalence, a study of clergy and lay leaders, and one-on-one interviews to capture personal experiences within our community.” The research, commissioned by the Church and conducted by NCLS Research, produced 28 top line findings, which included: the prevalence of IPV among Anglicans was the same or higher than in the wider Australian community; most clergy felt that having women on the pastoral team equips a church to better respond to domestic violence; and that perpetrators misuse Christian teachings and positional power. “All Anglicans will feel deep sadness over these results,” the Primate of the Anglican Church, the Most Rev. Geoffrey Smith said. “But armed with this data we can develop a better response to protect those within our church communities from domestic violence.” “There is a strong resolve among the Church leadership to address the problem and to provide an appropriate response and adequate support for victims,” he said. Rev. Lauersen added that as a Church, they grieve with the victims and survivors of IPV, pray for healing and recovery, and commit to doing more to prevent it happening. “This research has lifted the veil and highlighted how big the problem is not just in Australia but within our Anglican community also,” she said. In response to the research findings, the Anglican Church has developed and endorsed the ten commitments to improve the way IPV is addressed within its faith community. They are focused on cultural change, education, training and support. “There is positive work being done by dioceses across the country, but as this research demonstrates there are gaps which we are committed to addressing,” Rev. Lauersen said. “We are forever grateful to those who took part in our research project, from members of the clergy and lay leaders to survivors and victims across the country, for they are helping to drive change in the Anglican Church and, we hope, more broadly across Australia.”

For more information, visit anglican.org.au/our-work/family-violence

Redeveloping Baptist churches

Baptist Development Australia (BDA) is a new Baptist Financial Services (BFS) initiative established to work with churches that have redevelopment opportunities.

Chief Executive Officer of BFS, David Slinn discussed the background to the initiative. “Churches sometimes have sites which can support broader activities that may have a commercial element that can help cover the cost of building new church facilities or new church initiatives,” David said. David shared that BFS identified three key issues in forming BDA, which were critical to making such developments possible and successful for churches: having the right expertise and knowledge to manage a redevelopment process well; understanding how the church can be integrated into any new development, including how the development can be managed alongside the church once completed; and having risk capital to invest, particularly at the early stages of a project, such as obtaining development approval, which can involve significant expenditure. Australian Baptist Ministries National Ministries Director, Pastor Mark Wilson spoke of his enthusiasm for BDA.

“It is a significant and exciting initiative for the Baptist community that BFS has put aside dedicated risk capital for BDA to be able to progress redevelopment opportunities with churches on a larger scale than was previously possible.” David Slinn expanded on the vision for BDA. “It represents an amazing opportunity to make the church more central to communities, as churches create community by providing a place to meet and gather.” “Placemaking is a well-known and key urban design principle to make development projects successful – this is about connecting people, communities and the church together,” David said. Forms of development can take many shapes and sizes, and can include simple things like a corner store, medical services or office facilities, to larger and more complex needs such as childcare, education, sporting facilities or residential development. David shared that the key focus of any development is to work with the local church community as they formulate their project vision on outcomes that are viable and achievable. This needs to be integrated well with the church’s overall vision and to be owned and held by the church, rather than by the developer. A church can have great facilities and financial outcomes, but they are just tools that need to be fit for purpose to support the needs of church in building connections and relationships. In the post Christendom era, there is great diversity in what church looks like these days. The focus of BDA is to help churches in the context they are situated in and where a project is viable. It won’t work in every situation. The focus is capturing and realising those opportunities where they are.