Minister’s Letter March 2015

Dear friends,

I recently took the opportunity to preach in Scotland when I was back home for Church Assessor Training. Church Assessors interview people who are exploring a call to ministry within the Church. It was a privilege to preach in the Steeple Church, Dundee, where I did my first placement at the start of my training for the ministry in 1992-93. It had been a busy year. Julie and I had got married, I had written and submitted my doctoral thesis the week before beginning my studies in divinity at St Andrew’s University. I was, to say the least, a little academically tired, and certainly bewildered leaving behind the world of starch biochemistry in higher plants to make the transition to an arts course. I was expected to read books; lots of them.

During my placement at the Steeple, I was supervised by Rev Graham Foster. Graham was an experienced minister who intuitively knew that I was struggling in adjusting to my new situation. I almost gave up my divinity studies, but I am grateful to God that I didn’t. Sadly Graham died of cancer in 1999 but I have remained in contact with his widow, Elizabeth. It was good to see her and catch up. Over the years I have had a continued interest in the Steeple Church. My predecessor in Airdrie, Rev David Clark ministered at the Steeple for 14 years. Last year, my good friend Rev Robert Calvert moved from Rotterdam, after ministering there for 19 years, to be minister at the Steeple.

The opportunity to preach in Scotland has made me think a lot about the shape of the Church in Scotland; how it has changed, problems that we currently face as a denomination and the challenges for the future. Conversations with other ministers have also challenged my thinking. Are our congregations overseas valued and understood by the Church back in Scotland? Is our contribution to the life and witness of Christ and his kingdom appreciated within the denomination? I am not as confident about my answers to these questions as I was 10 years ago. The Church of Scotland has changed markedly over the past decade and I sense that the mood of the Church is not the same as it was.

St Andrew’s is part of the International Presbytery of the Church of Scotland. A Presbytery is a geographical grouping of congregations that work together and make decisions together. The International Presbytery has congregations on 3 continents. We engage with people across the world and a congregation like St Andrew’s welcomes people from different parts of the world who are seeking an Anglophone Christian community to worship in and serve Christ. We are blessed with a vibrant community of believers that is dynamic and alive, but what does that mean?

To begin with, it means that God is good to us: he continually blesses us with newcomers, even though we often bid farewell to other believers who have become our friends. I am constantly amazed at God’s goodness in sustaining us. I am grateful for it too. Secondly it means that we have a future if new people want to worship with us. There are lots of Churches in the western world that rarely see new people come through their doors. We might not be the same in 3 years or 5 years, (should we be?), but we can envisage a future as a worshipping community. Again I am thankful to God for the possibilities and opportunities that we can look forward to. But there is something else that we need be aware of: there can be the risk of complacency. Our congregation is busy Sunday by Sunday but we must never think that we have ‘arrived’ on the Christian map. Rather we must keep our feet on the ground, our hearts humble and our eyes fixed on Jesus.

Yours in Christ’s service