Kirk's newest minister finds a haven in Orkney

Reverend John Butterfield may be the newest minister in the Church of Scotland, but he brings with him over twenty years of experience gained serving in the Methodist Church. John recently transferred into the Kirk, and was inducted into the parish of Stromness and Graemsay in Orkney two weeks ago. Savouring the view over the harbour, he says "When I look out over the sea, I still pinch myself that I'm here."

Rev John Butterfield and his dog Meg by Stromness harbour.

Stromness was a 'natural choice'

Stromness is a picturesque waterfront town. Its kirk stands in central position on the narrow main thoroughfare which threads an irregular way through the houses and piers huddled along the shore.

Among the colourful names of the closes, like 'Khyber Pass' and 'Hellihole' is 'Manse Lane', and it is in the manse at the top of the close that John and his wife Caroline have chosen to settle.

"I'd been to Orkney twice on study tours during my time as chaplain to the United Reformed Church College in Glasgow, and I formed a very favourable impression of the islands. I knew some of the ministers who are already serving here, so when I was on placement looking at potential vacancies, Stromness seemed like a natural choice. I'm very excited to be here.

It's a different challenge to my previous charges. My first impressions are of a warm and lively community which has a lot going for it. I've only been here for 10 days and I've already been scouted for a part in the Stromness panto."

Looking forward to the General Assembly

John is the current convener of Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS) which is a role he is well suited to given his varied career. His first job was in town planning in Greater Manchester, before he felt a calling to ministry in the Methodist Church in the 1980s and completed his training in the city.

Postings followed in Wigan and Bolton, before he moved to Stirling in 2000 as the Superintendent Minister of the Central Scotland Methodist Circuit. After 10 years in that role, he began working across the denominations in a series of locum and chaplaincy positions. He was locum at St Mungo's Parish Church in Cumbernauld, before serving as the URC minister in Cumbernauld for three years, then returning to the Methodist Church with responsibility for Perth and Blairgowrie.

"I then decided to knock on the door of the Church of Scotland to see if they'd be willing to accept me as a full time minister," says John.

"I was pleased to find the door swung open. I had a wonderful familiarisation placement at St Columbas in Stirling to be introduced to the Kirk's structures and proceedings. After 20 years learning the rules of the Methodist Church, now I'm starting all over again!"

One aspect of the Kirk which John is already familiar with is the General Assembly. "I've attended the Assembly twice, once as the Methodist representative and once on behalf of ACTS. Next time I attend I will be able to press buttons and take part in the vote."

A smooth transition

Looking back over the wealth of experience he has amassed serving in Scotland's different reformed churches, John is uniquely qualified to offer his perspective.

"In truth, it is a very smooth transition into the Church of Scotland. These days the services in each Protestant denomination are very similar, and so are the structures.

"The difference is in the polity, the organisation and the regulations. People are people, and in places like Orkney people from different church backgrounds tend to gravitate towards the Church of Scotland because it is the main church."

 Rev John Butterfield, minister for Stromness and Graemsay

Looking forward to the future in his new charge, John plans to continue his love of painting and drawing and the occasional foray into amateur dramatics as well as developing his ministry in the local community.

"I want to rebuild some of the links with local schools and other groups which have lapsed. Like many places, the church here has an age profile which means many people are missing from it and I want to reconnect with them.

"Our building is in a great position in the centre of the town, but access is an issue and it doesn't even have an indoor toilet. It's across an alleyway in the boiler room. The congregation has done a great deal to repair the roof, and upgrade the manse, and now we need to find funding to sort out the other problems."

Visiting parishioners will mean taking the ferry

John will join the small number of church ministers who have to take a scheduled ferry service to travel within their parish. The island of Graemsay sits in the western approaches of Scapa Flow, a short 15 minute boat trip from Stromness. The island has connections to the early Celtic church, but today it has two working lighthouses and no functioning kirk.

“The minister and a small group from Stromness go across and take a service there about once a month. The Graemsay kirk is now disused and the service is held in the community centre on the island. I haven’t been yet, and I’m looking forward to getting to know the community there.”

During John's induction, the interim Moderator Rev Iain MacDonald paid him a generous compliment. Iain, who's minister in the islands of Westray and Papa Westray said:

"When I was south recently, some people who don't understand Orkney asked 'How did you get a minister of John's standing to come to Orkney?' The simple answer is because he wanted to come."

"I was embarrased by Iain's remarks," says John.

"My head was so big! I do get some kudos from the two year term I'm serving as convener of ACTS, but the truth is I am just an ordinary parish minister and I fully expect to see out the rest of my career serving the community here in Stromness. There's nowhere else I'd rather be."