When I was 17 I had a call to Ministry. This call was not a bright light in front of me. It was quite simply a discussion I had with my Mum one Sunday afternoon after church, where I walked into the kitchen and said “Mum I’m going to be a minister.” The feeling inside of me at that moment was as though a lightbulb had went on in my heart and that everything very much clicked into place. It felt as though God was saying to me “You finally get it.” But what about before all of this? What happened after that call? And how on earth does this relate to anything to do with missional ecumenism?
Well bear with me and we’ll get there. For me the church was always a constant in my life. I went to my local Church of Scotland along with my Grandma and Mum and eventually my sister. When anyone asked me if I was a protestant or a catholic my answer was generally “I’m a Christian.” I was very fortunate that I was never bullied for what I believed in and I was never belittled for my faith. I had always thought of myself as a Christian but at the age of 14 I invited Jesus in to my life and 10 years later he’s still there, living and active.
If I’m being very honest, and as a prospective minister I guess I should be, I didn’t actually know what the Church of Scotland was until I was about 16, up until that point I had been part of my local church and I wasn’t concerned about denominations or who believed in what. I had friends who would tell me they were baptists or catholics but I never saw any kind of issue in engaging with them or working alongside them. In fact my first experience of ecumenical working was when all of the local churches used to come together and put on a holiday club for the young people in the area.
The West of Scotland is a difficult place to be a person of faith and there are still certain areas you wouldn’t dream of entering if you were a protestant or a catholic. Thankfully, this is changing, but it is clear we still have some way to go. I got involved with the Church of Scotland at a national level at the age of 16 and suddenly realised that I wasn’t exactly sure why I believed what I believed and so I learned a lot over that year. Then came the call to ministry at the age of 17.
What happened? Well I ignored it at first. I couldn’t see myself as a minister and at the time I was applying to study medicine. I thought I knew best. I thought I knew what was right and so I went along with the idea of studying medicine. I didn’t get in. At the time I was distraught, yet over the years I’ve realised that that wasn’t where God needed me, and so it wasn’t where I ended up. I spoke to my minister who advised me to go and do any degree other than theology and get some “life experience.”
Off I went to the University of Glasgow to study Genetics (I am well aware this has nothing to do with theology), and it was at University I was able to begin to test this call to ministry. I became involved with Scripture Union and here I met a number of people who held to a wide range of beliefs. I learned from them and their traditions. I learned new ways to practice my faith and I was introduced to Pentecostalism, to Psalm Singing and to new ways of thinking, all of which changed the way I thought and the ways in which I interacted with Scripture.
I left university having got my degree and started working for a reformed presbyterian church in the middle of Glasgow. This proved formative in my life as I studied the bible in much greater depth than I ever had before and learned about early church history, evangelism, presbyterianism and schisms within the church, amongst a great number of other things. I worked with them for two years and my eyes were opened to different doctrines and how different churches interact with one another.
After this I decided that ministry was definitely for me, and so I entered into the enquiry process with the Church of Scotland. I took a leap of faith. The church was losing numbers, churches were closing up and down the country and yet it was to here I was called. And it was during this stage that I was able to broaden my horizons, able to test new ideas and challenge my theology in different ways. I ended up going to a conference organised by Forge Scotland where the keynote speaker was Alan Hirsch and his wife Deb. I went with a closed mindset. This was a charismatic conference, I was a reformed conservative, this was going to be a nightmare.
It wasn’t in the slightest. The people I met impacted me in a huge way. My eyes were opened to possibilities of working with a broad range of people in mission. I learned that doctrine mattered, but that it wasn’t as important as furthering the kingdom of God. That the people there loved God and had a deeper spirituality than the level I had, and to them I owe a great amount of gratitude. The conference impacted my theology profoundly and also my practice and ways of thinking of what matters most when it comes to questions of what and who is the church.
I’m now back at the University of Glasgow studying Theology. I am a candidate for ministry in the Church of Scotland. But I think I have been profoundly impacted by a number of different tribes and traditions. I have benefited from Catholic Priests, from Free Church Ministers with acapella psalm singing, I have been moulded by the Church of Scotland and the richness within that tradition, sat with baptists and shared communion with them, experienced churches who have no more than 5 people in them and been in churches with thousands. Each one of these denominations, tribes and traditions have impacted me in some way and I am hugely appreciative to each and every single one of them.
But do we here in Scotland truly engage with other traditions? Do we engage with other tribes? At the Forge Conference I realised that these Godly men and women often felt out of sync with traditional models of Church, that they didn’t feel like part of them and they couldn’t see their place in them either. This upset me. There should be a place for all of the gifts within a church body and there should be room for all. I’m extremely glad that the Church of Scotland have just appointed someone as a Fresh Expression’s development worker as I believe that Fresh Expressions could very much lead the missional ecumenism movement in Scotland. I am excited about the gospel partnerships which are springing up across the country, and also the churches together movement which encourage churches to share fellowship and resources and learning from one another.
Yet there is still a long way to go before this is fully realised. There is still the tendency to retreat into denominationalism, the tendency to retreat into a safe space when difficulties arise. But there is hope. Hope that we can engage more with other networks, that we can look at different models and learn from them.
It is my intention to never stop trying to engage with other tribes and traditions and to let God use that to mould my theology, my methods and how I practice my faith.