February 2022: Rev Gillian Paterson
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 February, Rev Gillian Paterson speaks about her role as minister of Wellesley Parish Church in Methil and we explore the theme: Why am I here?
My ministry: Rev Gillian Paterson, Minister of Wellesley Parish Church in Methil
Rev Gillian Paterson has been the parish minister of Wellesley Parish Church in Methil in Fife for the last 11 years. Before training for the ministry, she worked for 17 years as a stewardship consultant for the Church of Scotland.
What is your current role?
I am the minister of Wellesley Parish Church in Methil, which is the seventh most deprived parish in Scotland, so we're a Priority Areas church. I've been here 11 years. It's a parish full of challenges, but actually also great joy because what I've discovered is it's a really hardworking congregation – people who give everything their all. The thing I've learnt the most is about the generosity of people here. People wouldn't imagine that if you were working in a deprived area – and finance is an issue for us – but the generosity of the people in the time, their skills and their talents is what inspires me day by day.
Poverty levels are high, and it can be tough sometimes, but it's because I worry about the people who are living with what they're living with. In my opinion I have one of the best congregations there is because they work so hard, and they work with you. You're leading a team in a parish like this – you're not the one person doing everything as you can't possibly do that. There's too much need for that. They're a good bunch – and a happy bunch as well.
Can you describe a normal day?
There's a really high pastoral need and I do over 100 funerals a year. We're still very much the parish church and we also do a lot of weddings. Day to day it's about being with people and meeting their needs, which might be conducting a service on a Sunday and mid-week, it might be being in a school, or it might be attending poverty or foodbank meetings.
Our new project is setting up something called the Hope Chest, which is to provide furniture, household goods, clothing and starter packs for people in need, along with selling things at very low prices to help a community that can't afford to pay a lot.
I'm the chaplain to Girls' Brigade, Boys' Brigade and Sea Cadets, so I work with all ages which I particularly enjoy.
The last couple of years have been difficult as we're building a brand-new church centre here – we raised over £1.2 million to build it. It's been incredible but we've had over a year of delays and there are still snagging issues so I'm involved in a lot of that at the moment. It's where the working hard and generosity of the parish comes in – we raised more than half a million pounds directly by ourselves. There's a lady who said at the start of the process ‘I'll make scones every week to sell' and she did that for eight years.
We've got loads of young people about the place too – we have a youth fellowship of 20 teenagers and they did things like car washing and a coffee morning. The congregation also organised concerts and other fundraising events. Everybody just went for it.
When did you start feeling called to ministry?
In 1993 I came to work in the Stewardship Department of the Church of Scotland. I was a stewardship consultant for 17 years, working with hundreds of congregations. I loved that role, but the more involved I got the more I began to feel like I wanted to do more. In my home congregation my minister was extremely encouraging of me and got me involved with worship and convening a committee. All of which I can see now was preparing me for ministry.
We then had a series of bereavements in my family, one after another. It was after a funeral that I felt God say to me ‘you could help somebody who is sitting where you are'. I remember batting the thought away, but the feeling got stronger and stronger. In 2003 I went to an enquirers course and was greatly encouraged by people I met there – although everybody thought I was working at it. I did a brilliant enquiry placement at Kinghorn, where the minister Jim Reid gave me all sorts of tests and challenges without me realising it. And by the time I got to the assessment conference I thought ‘this is the path for me'.
I originally applied for auxiliary ministry as I was going to carry on with stewardship, but then we had another series of bereavements. It was actually during my probation for my auxiliary placement when my support group said ‘after all the work you've been through and all that you've done why are you going for auxiliary ministry when you could be full-time helping people in a parish?'.
At that time I was working with Wellesley and they were in a vacancy, but I'd already said to them ‘no I'm going to be an auxiliary minister' and they said ‘don't worry we'll wait until you've done the extra training', which is when you know God has a sense of humour.
Before I knew where I was, I was having a conversation with my ministries support officer and I was applying to Edinburgh University. I finished off my degree to do the extra courses that I needed – I did it in one year which was a bit scary but I absolutely loved it. I then went to do my full-time probation, which was just the best 15 months with Rev Richard Baxter as my supervisor. He really put me out of my comfort zone and it prepared me for ministry in a deprived area, which is where I felt God wanted me to be – that calling has never changed. Lots of people ask why I'm still in Methil and I say it's because I love the people there.
Have you had any surprises along the way?
The biggest surprise is how much people still value the parish minister. People tend to think the church is irrelevant these days and that we're in a secular society, but that doesn't apply here in Methil. People will still turn to the minister and I get loads of phone calls where people are looking for support. For me that's a real blessing as it means we are part of the community.
Test the call – either volunteer in your own congregation or another one, or in a community project as you never know what journey you might be taken on and you'll surprise yourself. You'll learn if it's for you or not. Don't resist it – God has a way of prompting you. Getting experience is the most important thing and don't get scared.
Any specific highlights?
Launching our appeal to raise the money to build our church centre was a definite highlight. A second highlight has been the numerous families that I've helped and supported in times of bereavement – it is my greatest privilege.
One that's to come is I'm conducting my daughter's wedding at the end of April and I'm really excited about that.
February Discernment Resources
Why am I here?
At different times in our life we will experience significant change. Change can be planned or unplanned, and sometimes we have little control over the circumstances that might arise. Sometimes it can lead us to ask questions about what God might have planned for our lives? As God's people we trust and believe we are in God's care, no matter the twists of the journey, but it doesn't mean we can't ask searching questions!
Keeping trusting that God is still active in the world, trusting that God still cares, even if we have a healthy dose of doubt in the midst, can show an active and questioning faith which is consistent with so many individual stories in the Bible.
For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Despite our belief that ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.' Hebrews 13:8, faith invites our questions.
Just as we can ask questions of God, so too we ask questions of ourselves to gain a better understanding of who we are, as unique individuals, and part of God's creation. There's always so much to learn about ourselves and our faith, and the world around us, that learning should never stop.
If we understand that God's presence is with us, then in our questions might we also be ready for God's invitation to a new direction and opportunity to walk a different path? It is possible, that God would speak to us about a new shape our lives will take in the days ahead. Are we listening?
We have been made for more than the everyday grind. We have something to offer to the story which is still to be written for our communities, towns and cities. God has a plan for how he will use our lives for his glory.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"
And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"
It might be easy to be overwhelmed by possibility or discouraged by our own limitations. That's why we take time to reflect on the lessons learned by us and the things quietly spoken by God. He doesn't look to us for our great ability. God looks for our availability. Will we say ‘Yes'?
What have I learned about myself throughout this last year?
What have I learned about my faith in this last year?
What has God been showing me and saying to me about his work in the world and my part in it?
Am I ready to explore fresh opportunities? What could they be? What might my next step be?
How does this make me feel?
What might stop me?
Prayer – John Wesley's Covenant Prayer
There are two great days in a person's life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.
"I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for a Discernment Conversation with one of the Recruitment Team.