August 2023: Rev Andy Muir
Each month, the Church of Scotland's 'Talking Ministry' series shares 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.
My ministry: Rev Andy Muir, Minister of Word and Sacrament at Stranraer Parish Church
Rev Andy Muir was inducted as minister at Stranraer Parish Church last October. Married to Shona, he has a background of self-employment in a variety of businesses and is a keen amateur photographer.
What is your faith background?
As a young child, my mum and gran both took me to the Darlington Church in Ayr. I still have very fond memories of this and going to the Sunday school, but sadly, the building closed when the church went into a union, and my mum and gran decided to stop going at that point. As I was only around 10 years old, I didn't argue and I lost contact with the church for many years, only returning for weddings and funerals until I was in my forties; that said, I never lost my faith.
What led you to consider entering the ministry?
I had returned to church in my forties, after attending an Alpha course. Although I had always thought of myself as a Christian, this was when a real relationship with Christ developed.
At this time, I also realised that so many people around me in the church had a much better understanding of their faith than I did and so I asked my minister if the church had any courses that I could do. He pointed me to the Highland Theological College (HTC) Access Course, telling me not to worry about what the intended purpose of the course was, but recommending that I chose only one or two modules, perhaps just the Old and New Testament.
This was to be the start of a real hunger that developed. I gradually completed all the modules, and during this time I also did worship team training with the presbytery. Growing in my understanding and my relationship with Christ, as well as experiencing what a wonderful thing it was to be able to serve others in some small way, were all pointers that led me to ministry, but there was a specific moment when I was acutely aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit. That is too much to expand upon here, but it was the ultimate realisation of my calling.
Although, at the time it seemed there were many challenges, uncertainties, and obstacles that lay ahead, looking back now, my journey actually took a perfectly straight line from beginning to end.
How did you find the experience of studying for the ministry?
I knew without a doubt I was being called to ministry, but I was terrified at the prospect of having to pass a theology degree. Having left school at 16, more than 30 years previously, the access course was my only taste of any higher education, and even that was at a relaxed pace over two years, so I couldn't see how I would manage to complete this part.
I remember I failed my very first exam with embarrassing marks, but with the hunger and determination I now had, I was able to quickly turn that around and go from strength to strength.
Although HTC is set up for distance learning, I loved going up to the Paisley Campus in person for the first year and a half, and this helped me make some really good friends, and to find people to discuss the various subjects with. Sadly because of Covid, the remainder of the course was done online, but the flexibility that offered, and the experience that was already in place within HTC, really made everything so much more straightforward.
I am so thankful to HTC for that, because where other universities had to learn to adapt, HTC already had all the systems needed in place.
What did you learn from each of your placements?
My placements were all excellent. As well as having some great mentors, there were lots of very helpful people in each of the congregations too, many of whom I still keep in touch with.
My first placement was great for building my confidence, and when I look back, I'm so glad that minister had so much patience!
Another placement had four different churches, over a large geographical area, which, although the minister went around each one in turn, it was also a ministry of enablement, encouraging others to lead worship and to share pastoral care in his absence which was really helpful to see.
Another was a summer placement with a holiday club, and that was a great help as during Covid I wasn't able to go into schools. Another was interesting because it really challenged my theology. This helped me to realise that despite our differences, it was quite possible to work together in harmony and it broadened my outlook.
All of these placements were really helpful in building and shaping me, but I was so lucky in my probation at Penninghame Parish Church. I had so many opportunities, to experience new things, and to try things for myself, and my supervisor was so helpful and insightful. When I look back, I realise just how lucky I have been with all my placements.
How do your interests and past work experience help your ministry?
I had worked for myself in many different guises over the years, and so I always had a good work ethic. I was always driven to succeed at whatever I did and if something didn't work at first, I would always analyse the situation and look for reasons why. I also dealt with the public in all my roles and experienced much across the whole spectrum of human nature, learning when to be strong, and when to exercise compassion. How to handle conflict and how important it was to under promise and over deliver.
My working life and customer relationships over many years have been instrumental in preparing me for ministry. My biggest interest is photography, which would be very helpful in presentations, and it has helped me to put together online services etc, but I don't get nearly as much time to enjoy this now, as I would like to!
What have been the highs and lows of your first year as minister?
There are so many highlights so far already! These include seeing the congregation rise steadily week on week from around 60 people to over 100 each week. I was always determined that my role would never be one of managing decline, and I'm so glad that is the case.
Being able to serve families during times of happiness as well as times of sadness, as well as all the times in between has been really rewarding and growing in a relationship with these families has been lovely too. Another highlight is regularly getting the chance to have conversations about Christ with people outside the church. I don't set out to have these conversations, but they invariably end up that way.
The only low points are that by the end of my first year I will have conducted around 80 funerals. While it is wonderful to be able to help all these people in their most difficult hour of need, it sadly also prohibits me from doing many of the other things in ministry that I would like to do.
Also, I haven't been able to start a Sunday school yet, which I know is essential for the future, but I have every faith that the help needed to do this will come in God's time.
Any advice for someone who is thinking about becoming a minister?
I would say to anyone thinking about it, first, be sure of your calling. If you think you are being called, explore that call. Regardless of your financial situation at present or your academic capability, if God is calling you to serve, He will clear the paths, and He will make things possible in ways that you would never imagine possible.
Trust in God, and take that leap of faith!
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.'"
- John 20:16-17
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for a Discernment Conversation with one of the Recruitment Team.