How does a smaller parish create a gap year program without lots of staff or the financial resources of the bigger parishes?
‘I was asking that question whilst looking at the handful of young people in our church and knowing that we needed to do more to disciple them,’ said Reverend Paul Davey from St Nicholas’ Anglican Church Goulburn. ‘I looked at the normal gap year programs and couldn’t see how our people could afford to pay for them. What’s more, they required extensive time in Sydney which would take them out of our parish for considerable amounts of time. That would make it difficult to work part-time and serve in our parish as well. It seemed like everything was once again too difficult for rural parishes. But then we discovered the Diploma of Christian Ministry and Theology (DCMT) at the St Mark’s National Theological Centre. All of a sudden, it became doable!’
The DCMT is a majority-online course that only requires four days of in-class intensives in Canberra. The rest of the course is completely online and can be done at the hours that suit each student, so there’s great flexibility. ‘This means it’s perfect for rural parishes like us as well as the Canberra ones,’ said Reverend Davey. ‘Also, it was roughly 10% of the cost of other gap year programs. So our young people could afford it!’ The DCMT is a foundational course that offers introductory theological and practical ministry subjects. Unlike courses that are designed to create the next generation of ministers, the DCMT is at a VET level so it’s accessible to almost all levels of academic ability. Its aim is to educate and train the next generation of serving church members. ‘It serves perfectly to fill out any knowledge gaps from Sunday School and Youth as well as prepare the young adult church member to be active in serving in their local church,’ said Reverend Davey. ‘That’s exactly what we needed at St Nick’s for our young people.’
At St Nick’s the church then added two other strands to complete the St Nick’s Gap Year experience. Daily Bible reading using an online app was the second strand. This teaches the basic Christian discipline of reading the Bible daily. The third strand was a ministry placement at church where each gap year participant got to immerse themselves in a church ministry and really get stuck into serving. The gap year enables participants to work part-time as well. And so the St Nick’s Gap Year was born … except it needed some participants.
James, Carina and Lachlan signed up to do the St Nick’s Gap Year in February this year and became the program’s inaugural participants. James has continued to do fencing and farm work whilst taking on school Scripture teaching as his ministry placement. Lachlan has worked in the family butcher shop whilst choosing telecare as his ministry placement. Carina has taught dance and studied at TAFE in addition to leading the singing at church. ‘It pushed me out of my comfort zone ministry-wise and I’ve become more a part of my church than I used to be,’ said Carina.
Thanks to the DCMT at St Mark’s, a gap year program is something every rural or smaller parish can now add to their ministry. It’s no longer the preserve of big city parishes in wealthier areas. Any parish anywhere can now run a gap year program thanks to the DCMT at St Mark’s. And that’s a game changer for smaller parishes or rural parishes. ‘It means that when our youth leave for the city they will be strong in their Christian faith and looking for a church to serve in,’ said Reverend Davey. ‘Some of them may also choose to stay in the parish and the program means they will know they have a role and a place at St Nick’s. It’s my hope that this will become the standard thing everyone in our parish does when they finish school. It will prepare them for a lifetime of trusting and serving Jesus in the context of their local church.’