“Be willing to invest in people on a personal level, like starting to meet up with them one-to-one to read the Bible. That is the first goal in creating a culture of shaping people through a journey of godliness. This is the way you can start planting the seeds for how people are going to use their time wisely – whether that is formal ministry or not.”
Clare Merkel is an MTS trainer, former apprentice, mother of 4 and wife to Tristan, a minister at Bathurst Presbytarian. Having grown up in a Christian family, Clare always knew who Jesus was, but her understanding of grace came at youth group. She says, “I actually started to understand what Jesus had done for me and the concept of grace. That he died in my place so that I could have life, and that it was actually nothing that I did.”
Restored and convicted by God
After high school, she moved from her hometown of Dubbo to live in Sydney and study Bachelor of Science (Health and Sports) at UNSW. While she was there ministry apprenticeships were talked about, but it wasn’t a pathway she considered. Clare says, “I was very much focused on my degree and where I was headed with my career. It wasn’t really something that I was interested in then.”
Clare finished her degree and began to work as an Exercise Physiologist. After she had worked full-time for a few years, Clare began struggling with her mental health and ended up moving back home to Dubbo to be with her family. In this time she really relied on God to sustain her. Clare shares, “I was praying a lot that God would restore me. Restore my health and restore my relationship with him. And through that time he did restore me.”
As well as bringing her healing and restoration, God also put on Clare’s heart the need of the lost to hear the Gospel. She says, “He gave me this real desire to help other people to know this grace that Jesus offers. And this restoration that Jesus can offer.”
An unconventional MTS apprenticeship
Over the next year, Clare explored her options, considering if she wanted to stay working in the secular workforce or pursue more formalized ministry. She says, “I began speaking to my pastor Paul Sheely at [Dubbo Presbyterian] at the time and we probably spent about nine months, actually leading up to starting a ministry apprenticeship and thinking through that.”
These conversations led Clare to do her ministry apprenticeship under Paul and his wife Margie, but unconventionally, she didn’t do it at Dubbo Presbyterian. Paul, Margie and their family moved to serve on the team at Albury Presbyterian, and invited Clare to move with them and do her apprenticeship there. Clare says, “ So I moved to Albury and I commenced my ministry apprenticeship down there at Albury Presbyterian church.”
Her apprenticeship at Albury involved supporting the Sheely family in their work, which was centred around replanting the night service. Clare was involved in big picture thinking, learning about church leadership and church planting, ministering 1-1 to women, youth group leading and teaching SRE.
During that year Clare met her now husband, Tristan, who was studying at Christ College (then known as The Presbyterian Theological Centre) in Sydney. At the end of the year, they decided to get married, so Clare moved with her husband to Sydney and went to Abbotsford Presbyterian to complete her apprenticeship.
Clare says, “Abbotsford was more different for me because I grew up in the country. So Albury was quite similar to what I was used to.” Clare was trained at Abbotsford Presbyterian by David Thurston and his wife Kathy. In the second year of her apprenticeship, and first at Abbotsford, Clare was involved in teaching scripture, music ministry, kids ministry and 1-1 discipleship.
She says, “When I went to train with Dave he was very big on reflecting, and teaching me how to reflect well in ministry. We spent a lot of time learning how to intentionally reflect on ministry in terms of my own personal character, but also reflecting on ministry and the people that we minister to. This was very impactful for my ministry now.”
During her apprenticeship, Clare also completed a Diploma of Theology with the Timothy Partnership Centre, a part of Presbyterian Youth NSW.
Returning to regional church ministry
After Clare had completed her apprenticeship and her husband Tristan completed his study at Christ College, they moved to Bathurst Presbyterian for Tristan to work as a minister there.
In partnership with Tristan, Clare has been involved in training multiple apprentices at Bathurst, as well as discipling women in the church in addition to her own children. Her apprenticeship experiences have shaped her own Christian walk and ministry in an ongoing way.
Clare says, “One of the biggest things I learned from the first year when I was down in Albury with the Sheely’s, was learning how to balance family, life and ministry. This has been particularly helpful for my stage now. How to balance discipleship and mentoring your own children, but also the time you give to other people in discipleship and mentoring and how to do that well, was something pretty significant for me to learn.”
The intentional reflection Clare learned from David Thurston at Abbotsford has also had a significant impact. She says, “Intentional reflection has really served me well in ministry now. It may not seem like a practical skill, but to be able to reflect well, both on your individual life and individual character, and also to be able to reflect well on those that you pastor and the ministries that you’re involved in helps you to think bigger picture better.”
Walking alongside apprentices and seeing them grow in godliness and ministry skills has been a real joy for Clare as a trainer. Training in a regional church and being involved in how God is working in regional places is also a joy.
For many regional and rural churches, having a ministry apprentice seems like a far-fetched dream. Clare encourages churches to be investing in building up future apprentices. She says, “Be willing to invest in people on a personal level, like starting to meet up with them one-to-one to read the Bible. That is the first goal in creating a culture of shaping people through a journey of godliness. This is the way you can start planting the seeds for how people are going to use their time wisely – whether that is formal ministry or not.”