Talking Ministry: People want to be heard, valued and loved
Published on 15 May 2023 3 minutes read
Coming from a family which has long benefitted from the support of the Church, Rev Stewart Weaver is now passing on that support to others as the minister of Portobello and Joppa Parish Church.
Mr Weaver, who has just marked his 20th anniversary at the Edinburgh kirk, is originally from the USA. Born in Wisconsin, he lived in Detroit and Kentucky before the family settled in Upstate New York, close to Niagara Falls.
Yet, despite the frequent moves, there was always one constant.
"My mother grew up in a Presbyterian Church in Virginia and, when her father died at a relatively young age, the local Presbyterian church was caring and supportive," Mr Weaver explained.
"She never forgot that. So, in the course of the many moves, the church — always a Presbyterian church — was a source of continuity and also a smaller community within a wider community that welcomed us and helped us settle into a new environment."
As a member of a church youth group, Mr Weaver saw how that support extended to the wider community through projects to support those in need both in inner cities and in rural areas, and after leaving Williams College in Massachusetts, instead of pursuing a conventional career he opted to spend a year working with the homeless in Portland, Oregon as a volunteer with the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA).
That led to two years teaching English in Qingdao in the People's Republic of China through China's biggest charity, the Amity Foundation.
Following family footsteps
Following in a family tradition, as a great-great uncle had worked as a doctor in northeast China at the start of the 20th century, it was also where he met his future wife Katie, before returning to the US where he worked with refugees in the city of Buffalo through a Presbyterian supported programme. It was while working on this project that he began to consider a call to ministry.
Mr Weaver said: "While the practical support for the homeless was formative, as was the teaching and work with refugees, these highlighted that, if people in a community, society or world simply do not care for each other or love others, then all of the practical support will wither and education could be turned in any direction. Perhaps it was important to get to the heart of things….and thus a call became less of a niggle and more of a consideration."
Again, he had a family example to encourage him.
His mother had returned to university as a mature student after he and his brother went to high school and had trained to be a minister in the PCUSA.
However, that had to wait until he moved to the UK to be with his wife, first to Bristol and then to Edinburgh, where he studied theology at New College. After earning a Bachelor's degree in Divinity he went on to study for a PhD in Hebrew and Old Testament studies.
He has stayed on in the city as a parish minister, a role he says would be impossible without the support and understanding of his congregation, especially in the early days when he had two children under six and a wife who worked full-time, while facing the challenge of seeing his church through a three-way union.
More recently, he has been involved in Presbytery planning as the Church of Scotland carries out an ambitious restructuring programme to pave the way for future growth.
"The dedication of the team and the willingness of people in the congregations to engage in a difficult process has been humbling," he said.
"But perhaps the biggest challenge has been the consistent shift and change in perspectives in order to engage people at the level of hearts, minds and souls. Listening to parents in a playground, hearing concerns at a church meeting, considering issues at a community level, contributing at a national and international level.
"In the midst of it all, people seem to want to be heard, understood, valued and loved."
To read the full interview, visit our Talking Ministry page.