Minister sees new horizons in City of Discovery

Last week The Courier published a story about a minister shortage in Dundee. But as a minister on the ground there, Rev Robert Calvert, points out, this is only one detail in a city going through a remarkable evolution where the Church is adapting to a new landscape.

Robert Dundee
Rev Robert Calvert is the minister of a church in Dundee's city centre, Steeple Church.

Yes there are issues in Dundee with ministry but are we now seeing an evolved landscape in Dundee?

Ministry is not the only lens through which to look at the spiritual health of the Church. Other aspects to look at would be their diaconal service, their prayer life or the new forms of community. I prefer to talk about ‘Christian communities’ and drop church-speak. This is because church-speak tends to focus on denominations and institutions – and then we forget that we are part of the problem! In Dundee I see new ‘containers’ of Christian community developing up and a mixed economy of styles and approaches.

What signs give you comfort that the presence of the Kirk in Dundee is not on the wane?

Some forms of the church are on the wane but that is necessary. New forms cannot fully develop until new space is created. That is what is happening in our times. New kinds of Christian community are growing in Dundee. I think about churches from other countries and continents. I’m encouraged by the grace and humility of many Christians. I’m encouraged by their commitment to serve people on the margins. There is a lot of loneliness and hurt in the city and I’m encouraged that we are making time to listen.

How can we get new ministers recruited?

I am a bit suspicious of ‘recruiting’ because it suggests that we just seek volunteers. We seek people who belong to Jesus “lock, stock and barrel’ (to use a military metaphor) or (since you are speaking to someone who likes fishing) are committed “hook, line and sinker.” New ministers need to be disciples and to have been ‘discipled’. It is not worth recruiting those who do not know what it means to be a disciple of Jesus or disciple others.

Robert Steeple
"The Church has always struggled to find enough people ever since Jesus discipled twelve ‘apostles’ to reach the world. I think we are often best when we have to be creative and innovative."

Do you subscribe to the idea that part of ministers’ roles can be given to lay members?

Yes, of course – I am deeply unhappy with the division between clergy and laity. I think that lots of people are gifted in leading worship or café church or messy church. We need to recognise the different gifts people have and not place one above the other. The culture of our world is to create ‘super-stars’ but the day of relying on omni-competent ministers has gone – and good riddance to it! Lots of tasks carried out by ministers and elders in the Kirk today need to shared. The church is essentially a community where everyone has a part. No-one should have two jobs until everyone has one.

Do you feel supported by the Kirk at Church Offices?

Yes – because they let me get on with being a minister in Dundee. There are problems but, to be honest, they are mostly ones that arise out of society and politics. I have freedom to coach people and develop new forms of Christian community. The Kirk does not tell me what to say, how to preach or how to use my time. They organise training courses and I chose to go to one last week in Glasgow. Last year the Kirk enabled me to organize a training event on urban ministry for churches around the ‘North Sea’. We live in days where institutions need to have a lighter touch and networks develop a thicker role.

What, for you, are the most innovative, pioneering, activities of the Church in Dundee?

We are seeing café style ministries growing everywhere. We see a growth in chaplaincy ministries – not only in hospitals and schools but also in workplaces and shops, in pubs and social clubs. People need to be listened to and at the moment we are struggling to find enough people to do this. The church has always struggled to find enough people ever since Jesus discipled twelve ‘apostles’ to reach the world. I think we are often best when we have to be creative and innovative.

What, for you, is the most truthful picture of the Church situation in Dundee?

No organization is ever going to be perfect. But I think Dundee has a ‘City Council’ that works. Its ‘Fairness Commission’ involved their councillors listening to people struggling on benefits and in homes fit to live in. That is rare to find. The Council respects the role of the ‘faith communities’. That is also rare to find. We need to hold each other accountable to do what we are meant to do. I think that we are on the ‘cusp’ of something very exciting in Dundee. I see different parts of the Christian family talking about sharing resources and serving Jesus together. Unlike Glasgow and Rotterdam where I used to work, Dundee is small enough ‘to get your head around’. The co-operation going on here is one of the best kept secrets in Scotland.

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