Rev Andrew Gardner
The Church of Scotland's ‘Talking Ministry' series shares personal stories from those serving in Christian ministry, along with resources filled with questions, prayers and reflections to help encourage reflection on how God might be calling you at this time.
For April, Rev Andrew Gardner speaks about his role as an interim minister and we explore the theme: A time for everything.
My ministry: Rev Andrew Gardner
After 21 years in ministry, including 14 years in the international presbytery whilst minister of St Andrew's Church of Scotland in Brussels, Rev Dr Andrew Gardner became an interim minister. Here he explains more about the role they play within the Church of Scotland and how it helps to keep his ministry fresh. Dr Gardner is married to Julie and has two daughters.
What is your current role?
For the last two years I've been part of the interim ministry team. I was appointed in September 2018 and started the post at Christ's Kirk Glenrothes in January 2019. I'll be starting at Barnhill St Margaret's in Broughty Ferry in the next few weeks, which will bring a new set of challenges to work through with the congregation.
What is interim ministry?
Our role as interim ministers is to be a non-anxious presence. A congregation or a presbytery may ask for an interim minister if they've had a short ministry in the past, or a very long ministry or a minister has died or if there's some conflict. It's where there has been some kind of issue that needs settlement from an experienced minster. You're there for 18 months or two years and then you move on. You may or may not live in the manse.
Interim ministers work to objectives with the congregation which are set a couple of months into their ministry. These can include getting new elders to refresh the leadership, trying to get a congregation to look outwards, and settling conflict. It can give congregations a chance to think about the future. Good communication with a congregation is key.
What attracted you to this specific type of ministry?
Quite a few things – I'd been in the international presbytery for 14 years in Brussels and my wife got a job back in Scotland. I thought ‘what's next?' so I looked at a part-time chaplaincy job, I looked at a parish charge, and then I looked at interim ministry. By this point I had 21 years' experience of being a minister so had dealt with working through situations of conflict so I thought I had skills that I'd learnt from things I'd done in the past. My minister from when I was growing up in Callander had been an interim minister for 16 years and I knew someone else who was also an interim minister who is part of the current team too. I didn't want to go back in to a parish long-term. It's been a chance to do something different, to keep your ministry fresh and I'm still learning lots. It's really important to know what God is calling you to do.
How did you get into ministry initially?
I became a Christian before going to Glasgow University to study agricultural chemistry. I got a job after university as a trainee accountant in London and hated every moment of it – I couldn't count! Off and on I'd have a sense of a call to ministry – sometimes it was strong sometimes it wasn't; faith goes up and down. I decided to go home and I applied to be a research assistant, which I got as a job in Dundee in 1989 and stayed there for three and a half years. I stopped wrestling with the call to ministry – I said ‘ok Lord, if that is what you want me to do I'll test the waters.' I applied at an assessment conference and got through. The Church was flexible and let me finish my research, which was very helpful.
What have been the challenges of the last year?
The lows have been being physically distant from your congregation and wondering if I was doing enough by making contact with people over email, the phone, by text or by any method I could to keep regular contact and make sure people knew the church hadn't forgotten them. I've kept that going and will hand it over to other people as I leave. It took me a long time to adjust the fact in my head that just because I wasn't there didn't mean I wasn't doing anything. I struggled with that.
There have been challenges getting to grips with technology too, we've had a few fails when our internet crashed. Recently we've been providing a weekly Zoom service and weekly worship on Facebook and people have been appreciative of our efforts. We do have some members of the congregation who just can't access these platforms, though, which really concerns me so it's not straightforward.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about following a calling into ministry?
Persist with your sense of calling even if initially you are not accepted for training. Keep pushing at that door. Find mentors and form a good peer group and stick with them – you've got to have folk about you. Use the Church's resources – ministry can be tough, so use the pastoral support through Ascend. Don't pretend you're something you're not – go to the right place where your ministry will fit as a congregation will see through you quickly. Every congregation has its own story, its own challenges.
If you would like to consider how God might be calling you to serve at this time, you may want to discuss further with your minister or be in touch with your Presbytery to explore local opportunities.
If you are interested in exploring a call to the recognised ministries of the Church, you can find more information on our vocations page and can contact email@example.com for a Discernment Conversation with one of the Recruitment Team.