Guidelines for Appointment of Religious

Guidelines for Appointment of Religious to Ministry with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

Prepared by a Sub-committee of the Founding Forum in consultation with ACLRI Aboriginal Issues Task Force. 1999.


These guidelines are offered to Congregational Leaders for use in the appointment of religious to Ministry with Indigenous Australians. They are intended as support and assistance in this task, rather than imposition while at the same time reflecting and strongly asserting a shift in our manner of working with Indigenous Australians.


The need to write such guidelines has emerged from changing attitudes, circumstances and practice in the appointment of religious to this ministry and from requests from Aboriginal people for a consistent policy across all Orders in the appointment of personnel to ministry with them.

… changing attitudes, circumstances and practice

Two significant changes have affected the way in which appointments to Ministry with Indigenous people are made:

  • recognition of the right to self determination for Aboriginal people
  • changes in the responsibility of individual religious and the congregation in discerning ministry placement

These have led to the evolution of a wider discernment process which takes account of these factors.

  1. Recognising Indigenous people’s right to self determination includes accepting their right to be consulted and to be part of the decision making process and their right to have their methods of discernment respected. In practice this means working in such a way that Indigenous people are empowered to have responsibility, assume leadership and take control of their own lives with confidence.

    It also includes recognition of their culture and spirituality and the centrality of relationship to both, and the collaborative forms of ministry consistent with a relational perspective.

  2. As well as individual religious being more involved in discernment about their ministry, they have come to accept professional practices relevant to their field of expertise. Just as accepted professional practice applies in other ministries with regard to recruitment, training, evaluation, review and reappointment, appropriate professional practice should also apply to Ministry with Indigenous People.

… requests for clarity and consistency in appointments

Some Religious Orders have had guidelines relating to Ministry with Indigenous People and these have been generously shared and drawn on in preparing these guidelines

While affirming the work of Religious, a request for consistent policies across all Orders in the appointment of religious to ministry with them, was made by Indigenous people at the NATSICC National Assembly in Darwin in July 1994. The need for clarity and consistency and the involvement of Indigenous people in appointment processes and procedures has also been expressed at meetings of the Founding Forum – a network of religious and priests working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people-at their meetings in Alice Springs 1996, Broome 1997 and Sydney 1998.

The following guidelines are an attempt to address these changes and concerns by naming the Starting Points for movement into Ministry with Indigenous People, the Processes which need to be attended to and the possible Outcomes.


Traditionally the process of the appointment of religious to ministry with Aboriginal People has followed the course of :

  • A Need identified by a Bishop with or without input from the Aboriginal people.
  • An invitation from the Bishop to a Congregation to take up ministry in a specific area.
  • A Congregational leader discerned availability and suitability of member/s for the ministry and appointed them to it, with or without consultation.

Following the changes outlined above there are now three main ways the process of moving into Ministry with Indigenous People begins. These are:

  • Individual Initiative when an individual indicates an interest in moving into this Ministry
  • Indigenous Initiative when an Indigenous group or individual approaches an individual and/or a church group about putting personnel/resources into this Ministry
  • Diocesan or Religious Leaders Initiative when Diocesan or Congregational Leaders identify a need and seek to address it.


The following processes may happen in consecutive steps or they may take place concurrently. Some processes may have already been attended to e.g. the person may have already participated in a Cross Cultural Education Programme or acquired skills appropriate for this ministry.

Each of the three processes: discernment, consultation and training interact with and inform the other processes. eg information from the consultation or training process may lead to further discernment or, the discernment process may identify training needs.

The time frame may vary for each person but would require several months at least.

The vital point is that all processes are attended to and that information and issues raised in one process are fed back to other relevant processes.


Individual: discernment of an individual’s call and suitability for this ministry.

People involved in this would include:

  • the individual concerned


  • a Spiritual Director
  • Congregation representative
  • Ministry Co-ordinator (where applicable)
  • a Reference Group which includes:
    • Indigenous People
    • Religious experienced in Ministry with Indigenous People
    • Person/s who know this person well
    • a facilitator

This process may include formal and informal meetings and make use of various means of communication.

Congregational: Discernment of the Congregation’s ability and willingness to be involved in this ministry and its consistency with their charism and current direction.


The Consultation is About

  • the needs of the community
  • the skills required to meet those needs
  • any need for further training by the person concerned compatibility of the person with the local Indigenous community

and involves

  • the Indigenous Community concerned
  • the person interested in the Ministry
    • this presumes a period of immersion with the community
  • Congregational / Diocesan Leaders / Co-ordinators
  • the employing agency e.g. CEO, Health Service, Diocese
  • Diocesan / Congregation Indigenous Committee where applicable – other relevant agencies in the area
  • Religious who currently work or previously worked in the area
Ongoing Formation

The person intending to enter this Ministry may well have attended to some or all of the necessary formation and training.

Ongoing formation will be required to attend to any of the following areas not covered by the person’s previous education and experience.

Cross Cultural Education

This is considered to be mandatory to address

  • knowledge about Indigenous history, culture and communication styles
  • appreciation of Indigenous culture and spirituality
  • understanding of the dynamics of cross cultural situations

(Cross Cultural Education is available at the Centre for Justice and Spirituality, Brisbane, and Nungalinya College, Darwin)

Theology which includes a current theology of mission and which addresses cross cultural mission

Spirituality which includes reflection upon one’s current reality


  • Required skills as identified in the Discernment and Consultation phases
  • Coping skills for dealing with the everyday realities of cross cultural ministry, isolation and lack of support structures
Review and Evaluation

Processes of review and Evaluation need to be understood as integral to this ministry and undertaken at regular intervals. They may well include the processes of discernment, consultation and outcome, outlined above.


Option for Ministry with Indigenous People

In the case of a decision to proceed with an appointment to Ministry with Indigenous People a Formal Agreement is negotiated, or formalised if already negotiated in the process of consultation. This involves all parties:

  • Indigenous Community
  • Employing agency (e.g. CEO, Diocese)
  • Individual and Congregation

The Formal Agreement will include:

  • Term of appointment
  • Remuneration and leave
  • Accountability
  • Support structures
  • Inservice
  • Monitoring and review Processes
  • Dispute resolution
Alternative Option

At any stage in any of the processes outlined above it may become clear that the person concerned is not suitable for this ministry and they may choose, or be encouraged to consider another ministry, further formation or personal renewal.

It may also be the case that the Congregation is not able to meet the need at this time or in these circumstances.

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