On 6 July, in a first for the LCANZ’s General Pastors Conference (GPC), participants met online for the triennial meeting with a slimmed-down agenda. The conference leaders and IT support team broadcast the conference from the boardroom in the Churchwide Office in North Adelaide, with 202 pastors logged on from their homes or offices. Some pastors gathered in regional hubs.

Pastors voted using the OpaVote platform, which will also be used for the online session of Convention of General Synod in October. Once the IT support team had assisted some pastors with a variety of issues, all pastors were able to fully participate in the voting process.

The 151 pastors who have been appointed as General Synod delegates elected nominees for the positions of LCANZ Bishop and Assistant Bishop. Pastors Matt Anker and Paul Smith each received the prescribed minimum of 25 per cent of the votes to become nominees for bishop. Pastors Neville Otto and Stephen Pietsch were nominated by the pastor delegates for the role of assistant bishop. The incumbents, Bishop John Henderson and Assistant Bishop Andrew Pfeiffer, did not make themselves available for nomination for re-election. All General Synod delegates, lay and ordained, will vote for the bishop and assistant at the first session of Convention, to be held online in October.

Dr Andrew Pfeiffer, Chair of GPC, based his opening message to pastors on 2 Timothy 4:5: ‘But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all your duties of your ministry.’

Speaking of the demands and challenges of contemporary pastoral ministry and the potential flow-on effects of fear, anxiety and discouragement, Dr Pfeiffer said: ‘We endure in the difficult time because Christ is at work, both in us and in the lives of others through our ministry. There is no pastoral theology of glory here. Pastors live and work as theologians of the cross, and the pastoral ministry can be marked by hardship, difficulty and even persecution.’

He urged pastors to keep their heads and to endure. ‘The image here is not so much to build resilience. That can be important, but it can also give the impression the task is within our own grasp and resources’, he said. ‘In fact, we only endure in the strength of Christ.’

Four hours of Continuous Education for Pastors (CEP) was offered through an exegetical paper by ALC lecturer Dr Stephen Hultgren, as well as two pastor panels covering the topics: ‘Pastoral Responses to COVID Challenges’, and ‘Reflections on Pastoral Supervision’.

Pastor Mathew Ker, GPC Secretary, noted that the experience of an online conference demonstrated both the successes and limitations of this format.

‘We were able to complete work that didn’t rely on open and complex dialogue, such as the elections’, he said, but added that ‘such a one-way event would make more comprehensive dialogue difficult. Being online also meant that many participants missed the personal connections that are often the highlight of such conferences.’

The decision to go online for Synod was made only weeks prior to GPC, due to the increasing risk of COVID restrictions, and GPC likewise went online. Dr Pfeiffer thanked the team of almost 20 people, including the LCA IT team, who ‘made it happen’. He further reflected: ‘COVID has meant that, like much of society, our pastors are weary. A six-hour online conference needed patience and a spirit of cooperation on their part. As chair of the conference, I appreciated how pastors engaged on the day and worked hard to enable us to do our work.’

Pastors have been asked to provide feedback on the online GPC in order to assist LCANZ event planning teams, including the General Synod planning team, to create the best possible online conference experiences.

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