Archbishop Dr Peter Jensen has announced that Bishop Al Stewart will spearhead a new diocesan church planting organisation.

The announcement was made at a church planting conference at Moore College in late June.

It involves Al Stewart, currently Bishop of Wollongong, being appointed as director of Evangelism Ministries, which will then be restructured for the recruitment and support of church planters.

Dr Jensen said Connect09 "has challenged us to move from maintenance to mission".

"The fact that I have released Bishop Stewart from his valuable ministry in Wollongong is an indication of how high church planting is on our mission agenda," he said.

"I have come to the conclusion that Bishop Stewart is the best one to lead this vital work.

"The board of Evangelism Ministries has warmly recommended his name to me and foreshadowed discussions within the board on the reshaping of EM and a new name to reflect a new emphasis on church planting. Al Stewart brings expertise, energy and firm leadership to this vital task."

Dr Jensen expressed empathy for the people of Wollongong, given the radical nature of this change.

"I recognise that Al has served for only a short time as Bishop of Wollongong and his leaving the region will no doubt come as a surprise and a disappointment to many. Nevertheless I believe that others will be able to build on the good work he has done in the Wollongong region."

It is expected that his successor as Bishop of Wollongong will be appointed by year's end.

Bishop Stewart says he looks forward to his new role with enthusiasm. 

"I am absolutely committed to inspiring, recruiting, equipping and placing young men with a passion for church planting and reaching the lost. There is so much discussion and enthusiasm for church planting at the moment that I'm pleased the Archbishop has given me the opportunity and freedom to strike while the iron is hot."

Chairman of Evangelism Ministries, the Rev Archie Poulos, agrees: "At the heart of this diocese is evangelism and so we have a great man to lead in that. But we need to go beyond our existing networks and into all communities. Al Stewart has the vision to reach those people at whatever cost and to recruit and inspire people to help."

Bishop Stewart, who is 50, will officially take up his position in February 2010 on the retirement of the Rev Jim Ramsay as director of Evangelism Ministries.

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