When a parish looks to put on an extra worker, it might hire someone for music, youth, or men’s and women’s ministry. But when the Rev Jodie McNeill, the rector at Jamberoo, sought a grant from Mothers’ Union Sydney, he applied for the funds to hire a part-time mothers’ minister.
A mothers’ minister? He has his reasons.
Being a parent is a tough gig
“As a small and growing village church, we only have limited resources and if it were not for the generous offer of the grant from MU, it’s unlikely we would have raised funds for this specific role,” he explains.
“When I heard about the grant I thought, what if we had a person who could give their energy to discipling mothers and helping them to have the home as a centre of ministry and mission?
“To tailor the position to the organisation supplying the grant seemed to be a natural direction. And I trust that, as mothers are encouraged to minister to others, they will be including women who are not mothers and not married, because they will then see their homes as a platform for ministering to anybody.”
When it came to hiring someone for the position, Mr McNeill didn’t hesitate. He rang Gemma Bartlett – who, along with her husband Matt and their three kids, have been long-term members of nearby Shellharbour City Anglican Church.
Says Mrs Bartlett: “Jodie and [his wife] Mandy and Matt and I had dinner together and chewed the fat on intergenerational ministry... and then a couple of weeks later Jodie called me and said, ‘I just want to run something by you’.
“He read this job description out... and I honestly expected him to ask, ‘Do you know of anyone who might be interested in a position like this?’. I was thinking it sounded amazing – it just ticked all the boxes of what we had discussed – and then he said, ‘Actually I was wondering if you might like to take the position!’.
“I really do love families learning together in church and I’m quite passionate about it, but I’d never pictured myself being in a role where that’s my job... It was incredibly humbling and exciting all at the same time.”
The family will now make Jamberoo their home church and, while the job is only 10 hours a week, Mrs Bartlett is excited by the possibilities.
Opportunities for growth
“My focus to begin with is just to get to know every woman in the church,” she says. “I think it’s really vital we see motherhood as something that all women are called to do within in the church family – not just those who have children – and encouraging them to be looking ahead and behind them: ahead to who’s in front of them that they can learn from, who can disciple and mentor them, and looking behind them to the young women coming after them.
“So then, all the women of the church are practising Titus 2 together, developing relationships and connecting with other women in an organic way... we’re very excited to be part of it”.
Glenda McSorley, the president of MU Sydney, says those at MU choosing where the grant money should go were unanimous in their enthusiasm for Jamberoo.
“There’s a real opportunity for great growth and for the project to go really well there, because it’s a motivated group,” she says. “Our members pray about this all the time. Being a parent nowadays is a tough gig, and our baseline is that we want to support families. I know it’s not the world’s way, but we see that God has a plan for families – and it works if you give it half a chance!”
Mr McNeill says he was struck by the global reach of Mothers’ Union when he attended the Gafcon 2018 conference in Jerusalem. “I saw just how huge MU is in Africa especially, and how they consider MU to be a platform for women’s ministry more generally,” he recalls.
“[Since then] I’ve often asked myself why wouldn’t we try some of the things that are working globally among our brothers and sisters in the Anglican communion? This job is an opportunity for the Mothers’ Union here to grow in its strength in local church ministry, and for us to explore what we can learn from MU in Africa and beyond.
“I think it’s an exciting experiment. We’re hoping we’ll learn lots so we can share lots, with the dream that mothers’ ministers may well be a thing for others in the future.”