From paws to pews Janet Easton-Berry is off to Skye

Janet Easton-Berry

A former game reserve worker from South Africa has made history after becoming the first woman to be ordained as a Church of Scotland minister on Skye.

Janet Easton-Berry will lead the charge of Bracadale and Duirinish on the north and west of the island which has been vacant for the last 18 months.

The Rev David Kellas, Moderator of the Presbytery of Lochcarron and Skye, described the move as a "significant development" for the Church.

Ms Easton-Berry, who worked among elephants, lions and rhinos on several game reserves in the Kwazulu-Natal Province as a safari rest camp supervisor, said it was an "incredible experience" that helped shaped her world view by giving her a deep appreciation for the cycle of wildlife and the natural environment.

Best job in the world

The 53-year-old added that her years as a social worker, which included a period in the field of child protection in inner-city London, had also provided her with invaluable experience that would help her in her new role as a Kirk minister.

"I have a great love of God and people and I am very excited to have my first charge at Bracadale and Duirinish," she said.

"I am inspired by faith and very much looking forward to getting to know and serve the community.

"Being a minister is the best job in the world because it is such a privilege to walk alongside people and hear their stories.

"I would encourage anyone who feels called to ministry to follow their calling because it is the best journey ever.

"I have worked in different fields but skills are transferrable so I carry what I have learned with me which will help me in my ministry."

Durban-born Ms Easton-Berry, who studied theology at Highland Theological College in Dingwall on a part-time basis while working as a community social worker on Mull, said growing up in South Africa during apartheid stirred a real passion for justice within her.

"Jesus stood up for injustice so that is why I decided to become a social worker so I could help people who have no voice," she added.

Ms Easton-Berry, who originally moved to the UK in 2000 to work as a social worker in London, worked as a probationer minister at Stockethill Church in Aberdeen for 15 months until last year.

She also spent three months in India – an experience she found "very humbling".

games Janet Easton-Berry helping to feed a rhino on a game reserve in South Africa.

Great love of God

Ms Easton-Berry, who graduated from Highland Theological College in 2014, lives in Duirinish Manse with her new husband James MacDonald.

Mr Kellas said: "The Rev Janet Easton-Berry is the first woman to be inducted as a minister in the Presbytery which is a significant development.

"It is the first time a congregation has felt free to choose a minister without worrying about gender.

"Women lead Church of Scotland congregations across the country.

"it is perfectly normal so I am pleased that the Presbytery has at long last caught up with the times."

The Rev John Murray, clerk to the Presbytery of Lochcarron and Skye, said: "We are delighted to have the charge filled again and are looking forward to the fruits of this new ministry which is just starting.

"Janet brings a lot of experience from different settings.

"Most importantly, she brings a great love of God and for the people of the parish.

"We all wish her well as she settles in."

Record number of ministry candidates

Ms Easton-Berry's induction service on April 15 was conducted by the Moderator of Lochcarron and Skye Presbytery, the Rev David Kellas.

She was preached in by the Rev Ian Aitken of Stockethill Church and members of his congregation were in attendance.

Ms Easton-Berry's induction takes the number of ministers in the Presbytery to four, out of the total of eight charges.

The number of new recruits accepted for Church of Scotland ministry training is at a nine-year high.

A total of 31 people were welcomed by the Kirk in 2015, the largest intake since 2007.

The Rev Neil Glover, Convener of the Church of Scotland's Ministries Council, said he was "thrilled" by the level of interest in becoming a leader of the next generation of churches.

The Kirk launched its 'Tomorrow's Calling' minister recruitment campaign at last May's General Assembly.