August 2022: Deacon Paul Cathcart
Each month throughout 2022, the Church of Scotland's ‘Talking Ministry' series will share a personal story 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 August, Paul Cathcart, a long-serving deacon based at Castlemilk Parish Church in Glasgow, talks about the role of deacons in the modern church.
My ministry: Deacon Paul Cathcart, Castlemilk Parish Church
Originally from Glasgow, Paul Cathcart now lives in East Kilbride with his wife Christine. He is dad to daughter, Stephanie, from his previous marriage, and step-dad to Christine's children, Carly and Jason .
Before entering the Diaconate, he studied for a SVQ in social care and considered a career in nursing – a profession he believes has much in common with the work of a deacon.
What is the role of a deacon in today's Church of Scotland?
The Church of Scotland has identified deacons as being Ministers of Word and Service with five key characteristics: apostle, prophet, servant, collaborator, and bridge.
All of these describe the work and character of a deacon but the one I think we can most bring to the Church during this period of change is that of bridge.
The work of a deacon is to support the work of the Church in practical ways so that others can focus on their particular call. This means we work with others in team ministry, supporting and enabling local church members, but supporting regional church too by playing our full part in presbytery.
Deacons serve on national councils and committees too. Some serve in chaplaincy roles rather than in the parish, but always with an emphasis on word and service.
Why did you decide this was the right path for your own faith journey?
During the 1990s I worked at Stroove House in Skelmorlie where my father was the warden.
We organised and facilitated residential stays for youth groups, and it was during this period I felt a call to ministry, but at first was unsure what this meant.
It was one day when doing general duties, I suddenly stopped and heard a voice saying: ‘I want you to do something for me'. There was nobody else around and when the voice stopped I went back to what I was doing. Shortly after this I received a leaflet offering training in theology and made enquiries.
My father was a deacon and, to date, I am the only person to have followed a parent into the Diaconate.
What training and preparation did you have to do for the role?
The leaflet was from St Colm's College in Edinburgh, which was a training centre for deacons at that time.
I started a course called Studies for the Church in the Community, which lasted two years and involved practical placements alongside academic study. I trained at St Margaret's Church in Greenock and then St James's Church in Paisley, and once the academic training finished I did my probationary year at Abronhill Parish Church in Cumbernauld.
I still look on this time with great fondness and I'm grateful for those who took time to teach me, and to allow me to make mistakes.
What is your own faith background?
I became a Christian at the Salvation Army in East Kilbride when I was aged around nine.
Our neighbours were Salvationists who invited us to go along with them. One evening I felt led to go to the Mercy Seat when the altar call came and someone came and prayed with me.
It was the first time I had experienced the touch of the Holy Spirit, but being so young I didn't know that. The man who had come and prayed with me explained what was happening in a very gentle and kind way. I became a Junior Soldier and played in the band, and was even promoted to band colour sergeant.
During my teenage years I fell away but returned to my faith via the Church of Scotland, becoming a member of Skelmorlie and Wemyss Bay Parish Church.
What have you learnt from your service as a deacon?
There are so many things.
I have learned the value of being a reflective practitioner. Being able to self-evaluate, or to seek supervision has helped me be more realistic about what I can achieve.
I am much more able to think before I react now and this means I can carry out tasks in a more measured way.
I have also learned that if God calls me just as I am, then maybe I am enough.
God does not call us and then change us into something we are not supposed to be. He calls us as we are and then shows us the fullness of life He promises. He sends us into the community just as we are, to be ourselves. Over time we become more complete versions of ourselves.
Part of that is to be challenged and to learn that we grow through challenge. Living within my comfort zone does not help me grow. It is when I step out and allow myself to feel uncomfortable that I gain most.
And lastly, I suppose I have learned how to ask for help, that it is not up to me to do and to change everything. The past year in particular has shown me that to widen the sphere of support is invaluable.
You have been on secondment from your usual position at Castlemilk Church, so what have you been involved in?
I have been journeying with Ruchill Kelvinside Parish Church for the past year as they looked to unite with neighbouring Maryhill Parish Church.
My role was to ensure proper governance was observed as well as pastorally care for the small but faithful congregation who remained.
I became many things during that year, including property convener as there were a number of issues identified with the building. I was able to work with some people who wanted to reach out to the local community and they are now running a group called Mainly Music, with over 80 families registered.
Part of the role was to work with the team at Maryhill Parish Church to ensure a smooth union, and I helped build a case for keeping the buildings at Ruchill Kelvinside open. This was crucial to the congregation who have worked so hard to keep the buildings going and who have a very outward-looking focus.
Do you have any advice for someone who might be interested in becoming a deacon?
The life of a deacon is all consuming and there is sacrifice. But it is a great adventure and every day brings something new.
I have been able to work with people of all generations, backgrounds, nationalities, and I learn every day from them.
I would urge anyone who thinks they feel a call to ministry to look at the Diaconate, ask whether it is to this ministry they are being called, and if so, to get in touch with a deacon nearby who will be more than happy to have a chat.
I am always happy to talk to anyone who wants to find out more about what being a deacon is.
August Discernment Resources: The Next Chapter
What is mine to do?
Stories are such a powerful way of connecting. In days gone by, there was, in most Scottish communities a designated story teller - a Seanachaidh - charged with keeping tradition alive by passing on tales from generation to generation.
On Easter morning, it was the women at the tomb who were charged with passing on the story of the Resurrection.
Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"
It's the most natural thing in the world to want to hold on...To hold on to whatever is in front of us because who knows what the future will bring? To hold on to what we know because we fear the unknown. To hold on to what feels good and to what brings challenge because alternatives cause us to be anxious.
Jesus' encounter with Mary reminds us that only by letting go will we experience whatever God offers next. Only by letting go will we be enabled to follow where Christ has gone and experience
a new way of being that fulfils our potential in God who calls and equips and leads us on to whatever is next – when we let go.
We are charged not only to pass on the stories but, along with God, to write the next chapter – perhaps even the e-book version of the story of the saints of God.
Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.
Hebrews 11:39-40 (The Message)
Who is it that shared stories of faith with me?
What is it that is holding me back from following their example?
What part of the story are you being invited to co-author with God?
Is our story one of romance or mystery, crime or adventure?
Who might join you as you move forward in faith?
God, enable me to be present in every moment, to take my cues from you. To discern what is mine to do and to let go of those things that do not further your kingdom.
And, in the releasing or relinquishing may I know growth not loss, peace and not yearning and the sheer joy of knowing that I continue to do your will becoming exactly who you created me to be, co-authoring, with you, the next chapter in the journey of faith.
For that is enough.
I am enough.
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.