I love my Saturday morning lie-in, it’s one of my favourite parts of the week. This morning, however, I voluntarily gave up my weekly bout of laziness in order to get up at 8am and drive the hour and a quarter journey to Perth. The reason was the Vocations Conference organised by the Church of Scotland.
This conference is organised to help those who are looking to train for some form of ministry within the Church to get the information they need to decide either what to apply for or whether to apply. There was information given about various types of ministry; Ministry of Word and Sacrament, Ordained Local Ministry, Diaconal Ministry, world mission, social care, mission and discipleship and, the reason I was there, Readership.
I met people from all over Scotland, plus some from further afield, with many different gifts and callings. Some had a very clear view of what they were being called to do, whilst others really had no idea and wanted to know where their place may lie. It was a really interesting time to chat with a group of very ordinary people, all prepared to allow God to do extraordinary things through them.
For my part, as I said, I was there to learn more about the Readership. Readers are people who can lead worship within the Church, preaching and teaching in place of (or alongside) a minister. They can also officiate at funerals and take services outwith the Church setting (schools, care homes etc.). The guy who spoke to us about it was a Reader from Dundee called Tim. He explained the history of the Readership, including why they are called Readers (they started off by literally reading the service off of a pre written script, including the sermon, when there wasn’t a minister available), then spoke about the options available in terms of either doing pulpit supply or being attached to a specific Church.
Now, to be considering something like this is, to say the least, a bit of a change for me compared to the person I once was. When I was a student I was elected to the Student Union council as Education Officer. At the start of the academic year every member of the council gave a speech to the first year students about themselves and their job. In one of these I was so nervous that I opened my mouth and… nothing. I froze. I’d love to say that I relaxed and finally made my speech, but that’s not how it played out. I stood there looking like an idiot for a while, then sat down, utterly humiliated.
At my wedding the only part which stressed me was having to give a speech at the reception. Doing it was terrifying, but at least words came out this time and the world didn’t end.
Basically, I have moved on from being somebody with a massive fear of public speaking to somebody who now trains people for a living and now wants to train to preach to church congregations on a weekly basis. What would have scared me half to death 20 years ago is now the thing I want to do more than anything.
I’ve been given a gift and given a desire to use that gift. Now, I’m setting myself on the road to learn how to use that gift in the way God wants me to. I don’t know where this is going to lead me, but I can’t wait to find out.
It’s a leap of faith to do this, but it’s one which everyone in the church needs to do. The amount of people training for full-time ministry within the Church of Scotland is falling, as is the number of full-time ministers. Other denominations are seeing similar drops. This is going to mean that the church will need to change its current model of a minister at the top, predominantly responsible for worship, admin and pastoral care, with the congregation filling in some of the gaps. The general membership of the church will need to step up to the plate and take responsibility for all aspects of church life and mission. It feels as if we are moving to something closer to the type of church Paul wrote about,
“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church: first are apostles, second are prophets, third are teachers, then those who do miracles, those who have the gift of healing, those who can help others, those who have the gift of leadership, those who speak in unknown languages. Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts. But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31 NLT)
We are one body. We are all parts of that body and we have all been given a job to do. It’s time we all started doing that job, whatever it is, to keep that body alive.
I heard a line at the conference today that a ship is safest in the harbour, but that wasn’t what it was built for. I wasn’t built to sit in a pew. None of us were.
It’s time to set sail.