Virtual clergy keep church doors open

The clergy crisis in the bush has become so acute that the Uniting Church in NSW has resorted to delivering sermons by DVD in order to survive, according to a report in today's Daily Telegraph.

The paper reports that the Church is sending out a 45-minute recorded sermon to far flung communities in the state.

Unlike the Catholic Church, the clergy crisis in the Uniting Church is more the result of a financial crisis partly caused by the drought. With the cost of having a full-time priest running at around $65,000 a year, many small country parishes can't afford to employ anyone. Other churches have resorted to looking overseas for priests.

The Uniting Church at Parkes, in the state's West, has launched Project Reconnect. It produces a weekly service on DVD, which is then distributed to congregations to ensure parishioners can access the church.

Uniting Church rural chaplain, Rev Kel Hodge, said the clergy shortage has forced the Church to look at alternative ways to bring religious teaching to people.

"Communities kept telling us they had ties to their church and that they didn't want to see it closed," Mr Hodge said. "What we're doing is fresh, on the ground and something that a lot of other churches are not doing.

"This initiative keeps the doors open especially in times of drought when people are under stress.

"We've found people not from a traditional church background are coming through the doors."

While many communities have no hope of paying for a full-time minister, for only $4 a week, which covers the cost of the DVD and postage, communities can stay in touch with their clergy.

Project Reconnect is an initiative that has ground-welling support with at least 15 churches in NSW receiving the DVD. It has also attracted attention from churches in Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria.

The DVDs are produced by the Rev Tom Stuart in Parkes and contain a sermon, readings, hymns, a youth message and questions for the congregation to discuss.

"Our parishioners have told us that it is sometimes more vibrant than the normal service," Mr Stuart said.

Virtual vicars keep church doors open (Daily Telegraph 16/8/05)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Uniting Church in Australia - NSW Synod

Rural churches explore 'new wineskins' (NCLS Research)
Small screens could replace clergy in country pulpits (ABC 15/8/05)
Videos replace vicars in Australian outback (Mail & Guardian, South Africa 15/8/05)

16 Aug 2005