December 2023: Rev Andrea Boyes
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 December, Rev Andrea Boyes speaks about her role as minister for Durness and Kinlochberive in Sutherland, the challenges of rural ministry and how she combines being a spiritual shepherd with being a real-life one.
My ministry: Rev Andrea Boyes, minister of Durness and Kinlochbervie joint charge in Sutherland
Rev Andrea Boyes has been Minister of Word and Sacrament for the Sutherland parish of Durness and Kinlochbervie for six years, having previously been minister at Chalmers Church in Larkhall. Like her husband Jimmy, she has a professional background in psychiatric nursing, and the couple have three grown-up children, daughter Rebecca and twin sons Conner and Andrew.
Has faith always been a part of your life?
My experience of Christianity started with the Brethren Church in Hamilton, where I went with my family as a young girl and where my grandfather, Papa Cuthbertson, was a lay preacher.
When I was seven, I clearly remember while spending time in prayer I asked Jesus to come into my heart and have this precious memory of feeling great joy from that. My grandmother's friend, Miss Japp, had been a missionary in India, and the idea of being a missionary like her always appealed to me.
I was baptised when I was 14, then had a big gap from church in my mid-teens, but now as I look back, it's clear to me how even in those years, God was using my teenage experiences to prepare me for my future ministry
What prompted you to consider the ministry?
I had just completed my post-graduate degree in acute mental health and decided that I would like to continue studying.
I thought that if I studied theology, I would be able not only to learn so much about the Bible but also help with Bible studies at the church where I was a member.
After much discussion with my husband, I moved to part-time work as a community psychiatric nurse for the homeless in Inverness and began a BA Honours course at Highland Theological College (HTC) in Dingwall.
Everyone kept saying "Oh, you are going to be a minister!" and I kept saying: "Not me!"
However, God had a different plan. Two things happened which spoke to me clearly and which I feel I can pinpoint as God calling me in earnest to ministry.
The first was when I woke up one morning as if someone had shouted very clearly: "John 10". I fell asleep and it happened again and I decided I had to read that passage when I got up, because I wasn't sure what John 10 was. It happened a third time and I again heard the words "John 10" really clearly. So, I got up and got my Bible out.
My husband Jimmy came through to the kitchen and put the kettle on before we began getting the kids up for school and he said: "You're reading your Bible pretty early this morning."
I enthused to him about this passage, which spoke about the Good Shepherd, and wondered if it was asking me to be a shepherd.
I said to Jimmy: "I think I heard God speak to me last night and I think His voice woke me up this morning." So, you can imagine the conversation that two psychiatric nurses had early morning in their kitchen when one is saying that they have heard God speak to them!
That was midweek, then on Sunday I went to our local church in Ardersier. We had a visiting minister for the service who spoke about how Samuel heard God speak to him when he was asleep, and that we could still hear God speaking to us today.
I heard this and I sat there with my heart pounding because that was just what had happened to me.
A while later, I was on the way back from Glasgow on the bus to Inverness and an African lady got on beside me and started talking loudly on the phone, so I just picked up my book and started to read. The book I was reading was "A Bird's Eye View of Paul". The lady saw this and asked if I was a Christian. I just quietly said yes, and she shouted: "Hallelujah!"
From Glasgow to Perth, she basically evangelised the whole bus because she was so loud. She spoke about how God still performed miracles and that we need to be bolder in our faith and share the good news about Jesus.
She got off at Perth and I smiled all the way to Inverness thinking: was God asking me to be a bit bolder with my faith?
Another miraculous thing was that my team leader at the time offered me a four-year break, which meant I could go back to work on the same grade within those four years if I wanted to. That was really special because it gave me a safety belt, but before the four years were up, I went to see her and said I was not coming back.
Has your background in nursing helped your ministry?
My nursing career certainly helped as a foundation in communication and counselling in the most difficult experiences of life.
It taught me to work independently, but also when needed, to seek practical support and advice from colleagues. In ministry, we spend a lot of our time working on our own, with no team to return to at the end of the day. I think we all need to have that trusted colleague or friend that we can share where we are at in ministry and faith – and just to laugh with.
Who has helped inspire you on your journey?
There are so many people who have inspired and challenged me in ministry, initially the preaching and gentle humour of my parish minister in Ardersier, Rev Alex Whitford, the supervisors I had training me in Inverness, the older folks who tell me their faith stories and always pray, the young people of church who have a passion for God.
However, it is the parish and people that I am called to serve that continue to inspire me in ministry, living out faith and ministry in the reality of ups and downs of life and all it brings.
What has been the best advice you have been given?
Always take a day off in the week, or even two! You are not invincible and need rest.
This was advice from one of my supervisors in Inverness, who said: "If you are too busy to find peace, then how will you carry God's peace? Find a rhythm with God in the day." That still rings as true today. It's about finding that rhythm of prayer and life with God. I am still working on that.
Something else to be aware of is when you are told that "someone was saying..." These words usually introduce criticism and are never helpful. A person bringing you such a message must be able to share with you from whom the original message comes so that you can speak to them about their concerns.
Never losing sight of the power and importance of prayer, is essential advice too.
What have been the biggest surprises, challenges and rewards of your career in ministry?
There have been surprises and challenges that have been really tough over the last few years, including Covid, Brexit and mission planning, but the rewards of being in the parish, with the people who you are called to serve in their daily lives, outweighs so much.
Serving in the Parish is where the greatest rewards are. Having the privilege of being part of a community that welcomes you, whether that's the church community, whether that's your crofting community, your school community, or the wider community in general. All of this creates and fosters a sense of belonging.
This biggest surprise this year was being asked to be chieftain at Durness Highland Games.
They choose the chieftain from someone within the community who has created through their work this sense of belonging and perhaps made a positive difference.
When I was asked, this was the first time in the history of the games that a minister had been invited to consider the role as chieftain, so it was really special.
You are piped through the streets of Durness, you are handed the most beautiful cromach, lead out the band and previous chieftains, give a welcoming speech and then spend the rest of the day speaking to anybody and everybody and thoroughly enjoying the games.
My sister had come over from Spain with her grandson and one of my boys was able to come too, so it was just a real honour.
What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
On a practical level, I have hens that need to be fed and dogs that have to be walked. That said, once I am up and the hens and dogs are sorted, before I begin my busy day, I love to spend time with God. I enjoy the app Lecto365, which is 24/7 prayer, and I do the daily reflection that you can read or listen to.
However, it is my call, to be with like-minded people who want to see the Church grow and see the Gospel shared and to pastor to my people, which inspires me and is my reason for getting up in the morning.
Are there particular qualities or demands involved in ministering to a rural parish?
Living in a small rural community you are part of that community, and you are known wherever you go and seen wherever you go. There are many miles to cover, with most of the parish single track road.
It also means being flexible and realising that pastoral conversations happen anywhere, from the shop, the café, on the road, in the passing place, at the beach, at the fank with the sheep, or in people's homes.
I've had sheep for the last three years. I originally purchased them so I could train my collie dog and become even more involved in my community. As my sense of belonging has grown in the community, so has the size of my flock and I now have several sheep. I have even been to the auction mart at Dingwall and brought sheep to sell for the first time.
All of this has got me thinking: this is culturally normal for all these crofters and farmers to go to the auction mart and listen intently for hours to what the auctioneer was saying, laughing together and enjoying being with each other.
I've come to see how at such events so many pastoral bonds are made and built on. It begs the question; how does that reflect on us as a church? Where are we welcoming and showing our hospitality? Where are we having our laughter? And how comfortable do new people feel, coming into a church building?
Every call to ministry requires a sense of adventure to see where God may take you.
For me here in rural parish ministry, God has called me into learning about sheep and farming where I have been able to share faith in normal everyday life. Rural ministry is not also about being out in the open in all weathers, but about being open to conversations wherever you may be, open to questions and open to encouraging people and listening.
Every day I thank God for this call to be here and to be with His people in this beautiful part of Scotland.
December Discernment Resources: Are we listening?
If you're reading this, maybe you've already felt that God might be calling you into some kind of service in the church and you're looking further. If so, you're already listening – but what is God actually asking? Sometimes that call can be a bit hard to fathom, and sometimes it's not what you had in mind in the plan for your life! Call can be such an imprecise and unpredictable thing. On the other hand, maybe you have a very definite sense of call, but have you considered all the options? Are you still listening? It's possible that in your certainty, you've closed down other possibilities.
Mary, the mother of Jesus was likely on course for a good, but not particularly noteworthy life, until she received an angelic visitor who foretold her destiny to bear God's son:
38 Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her. 39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
Luke 1: 38-40
I doubt that she was just as serene as that in her response. I imagine her running to her cousin Elizabeth's home and bursting through the door and pouring her heart out. "What am I going to do with this situation that will totally change my life?"
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Sometimes ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Exploring vocation does that to you. It turns you upside down and inside out, and it's hard to do on your own. So be brave enough to share your exploration with others. Bring it before God in prayer, and take the time to see what others who know you well in your church community think. I bet that Elizabeth took Mary in her arms and told her to calm down, then did the equivalent of putting the kettle on for a cuppa to help them talk it all over. Mary's song, the Magnificat, is an affirmation that God does incredible things through unlikely people. Those who thought that they were of no particular consequence turn out to have rich gifts to share. From a poor young woman, to weary fishermen on the shore, the call goes out to those with a heart and mind open to taking the risk of walking off the beaten track of life.
What could it be that God sees in you? Take some time to pray this out.
Have you taken the time to chat to others about your sense of call?
What do others say about your gifts?
What if you're called off the beaten track? Will you be open to the invitation?
What will you say in response?
"God is looking for those with whom He can do the impossible — what a pity that we plan only the things that we can do by ourselves."
Lord, your summons echoes true
when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you
and never be the same.
In your company I'll go
where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I'll move and live and grow
in you and you in me.
John L. Bell and Graham Maule
God, you can work through my life in incredible ways. May my heart be tuned to your heart, so that I can discern what you are calling me to. Give me the courage to risk sharing what I hear, and to live out that call as it comes. 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.