June 2021: The God of Surprises
Each month throughout 2021, 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 June, Alison Fenton speaks about her service as an elder and session clerk at Giffnock South Parish Church in East Renfrewshire and we explore the theme: The God of Surprises.
My ministry: Alison Fenton, elder and session clerk at Giffnock South Parish Church in East Renfrewshire
Mrs Fenton, 65, is the official record keeper of the church and her role involves preparing for Kirk Session meetings and making all the appropriate arrangements for Communion services.
She liaises with the conveners of the church action groups and generally supports minister, Rev Catherine Beattie, and the work of the Kirk Session, which is made up of 60 elders.
A Human Resources specialist by profession, Mrs Fenton is married to John, the son of a Church of Scotland minister, and the couple have three grown-up children, Scott, Jill and Katy, and two grandchildren, Maggie, 5, and Robert, 3.
Tell us about your faith journey.
I was raised in Giffnock and grew up in Giffnock South Parish Church where my parents were members.
I went to Sunday School and was part of the Youth Fellowship, becoming a church member when I was 18.
In my younger days, I helped run the Sunday School, the junior section of the Boys Brigade and I led the Anchor Boys for 10 years.
I gave that up in 1999 when I was asked to be an elder by the minister at the time, Rev Eddie Simpson.
I was 44 at the time and I think I was asked because of my commitment to the church. [I] was seen to have the qualities required and the determination to carry out the role to the best of my ability.
What is the best thing about being an elder?
I enjoyed getting to know members of the church who lived in the district that I was assigned to and building up relationships with them.
There is a pastoral element to the role and elders are expected to visit people on a regular basis and let the minister know of any particular concerns or problems.
Although our congregation has a newsletter, elders regularly speak to members to keep them up to date with what is going in the church, help them get along to services if need be and also advise them to speak to the minister if they need help.
Do you like being a session clerk?
I took up the role seven years ago and I am the first women in my congregation to do it.
It is a role I felt called by God to do and I enjoy it, although it is a lot of work.
I feel His hand upon me and I am involved with all the action groups and not long after I took on the role I was responsible for filling in the funding applications for a roof replacement project, which was a bit of a baptism of fire.
I find the role very rewarding and one of the first things I did was ensure that new elders were given training and assigned a mentor – a more experienced elder – which is something I would have benefitted from.
Are elders important to the Church of Scotland?
They are, not least because they are trustees and have important decisions to make.
Elders will be increasingly important in the future because they will have to step up due to a reduction in minister numbers.
We have worship teams in our congregation so when the minister is away on holiday we have six groups of two or three elders who lead services including myself.
Elders are able to support the congregation when it comes to mission work and pastoral care because the minister cannot be expected to do everything.
Do you have any advice for people who might be considering becoming elders?
People should always be themselves and bring their own personalities to the role.
But they should think very carefully about what is expected because it takes a lot of energy and time commitment. In my role as Session Clerk, my time commitment is the equivalent of at least a day and a half a week on average.
There is an element of realism required and it is very dependent on individual circumstances. I would not be talking everyone into becoming an elder.
We need to reduce the size of our session in order to work more effectively; we have 60 members and that is smaller than it was in the past.
An average of 40-45 people attend meetings but it is an elderly session so younger blood with new ideas would be welcome.
How has been an elder changed you?
It has made me much more committed to the congregation and I have a strong sense of responsibility for looking after people and think about where the church is going and what we are doing in terms of our vision for reaching the community in different ways.
Being an elder has enriched my life and during my time as session clerk, my faith has grown and developed much stronger.
I am much more involved in the wider work of the national Church and sit on different committees and I am a national assessor.
These experiences have broadened my perspective and I feel very privileged to serve as an elder and session clerk.
It is a great honour and hugely rewarding.
June Discernment Resources: The God of Surprises
Could God call someone like me?
I couldn't do that, I'm too young, I'm not smart enough, I can't speak in public, surely God couldn't be wanting to use me? Those may be just some of the thoughts that go through you mind when you start to feel that prompting by God to serve him more. Those negative comments that someone may have said to you when you were younger, that you wouldn't achieve much in your life, "Stick to your day job you can't do much else." Those are not God's words, they are not from the one who created you and knows exactly what you are capable of and knows that if you are willing to ‘walk on the water you just need to get out of the boat'. (From the book If You Want to Walk on the Water, You've Got to Get out of the Boat by John Ortberg.)
And Jesus himself said, to encourage his disciples before he left them,
I am telling you the truth: those who believe in me will do what I do—yes, they will do even greater things, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father's glory will be shown through the Son. 14 If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.
It can be so daunting to want to take a step of faith and in some respects put your faith out there and say yes to God's calling, but sometimes you don't have to do anything at all. If God is calling you then there is often no escape. We read in scripture of many people who were just getting on with their everyday lives and then God surprises them, takes them unawares so to speak. Young Mary, the mother of God, engaged to be married, excited about her future life with Joseph, then one night she is visited by an angel and before you know it she is going to be the mother of God. Moses, out minding his sheep, and before his eyes there is a burning bush in front of him, he realises he is standing on holy ground for God speaks to him through the bush, and has a job for him to do; to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and lead them to their promised land. David a young handsome boy looking after his father's flock out on the fields. He may have been looking forward to a nice quiet night, when all of a sudden he is called home, and before he can sit down and put his feet up he is anointed to become the next King of Judah.
The Lord said to Samuel, "How long will you go on grieving over Saul? I have rejected him as king of Israel. But now get some olive oil and go to Bethlehem, to a man named Jesse, because I have chosen one of his sons to be king."…….. 8 Then Jesse called his son Abinadab and brought him to Samuel. But Samuel said, "No, the Lord hasn't chosen him either." 9 Jesse then brought Shammah. "No, the Lord hasn't chosen him either," Samuel said. 10 In this way Jesse brought seven of his sons to Samuel. And Samuel said to him, "No, the Lord hasn't chosen any of these." 11 Then he asked him, "Do you have any more sons?" Jesse answered, "There is still the youngest, but he is out taking care of the sheep." "Tell him to come here," Samuel said. "We won't offer the sacrifice until he comes." 12 So Jesse sent for him. He was a handsome, healthy young man, and his eyes sparkled. The Lord said to Samuel, "This is the one—anoint him!" 13 Samuel took the olive oil and anointed David in front of his brothers. Immediately the spirit of the Lord took control of David and was with him from that day on. Then Samuel returned to Ramah.
1 Samuel 16:1 & 8-13
Do I bring myself down and believe my own negative thoughts that I am not good enough for God to use me?
Could God have gifted me with the ability to do what I feel called to do?
If I just get on with my life and ignore God would he surprise me?
Should I test God and ignore his calling? Or should I get out of the boat and look to Jesus and trust that he will lead me?
God to be at this stage in my life, and to be at this stage in my relationship with you, is a surprise in itself, but to know that you can use me in your service is a huge surprise as well as being extremely humbling and affirming. Thank you that I am open to your calling and Lord I want to have faith like Peter, Jesus' disciple, had to call out to you and ‘walk on the water.' To trust that you will lead and guide me in the right direction. Thank you that you have used the most ordinary people in the past to do the most extraordinary things like becoming the mother of God, leading people to freedom and becoming a leader of a nation. Help me to trust in you and to know that you will use the gifts you created in me to bring glory to your name and to serve your people. AMEN
The treasure lies in what you may consider a most unlikely field – yourself.
Gerard W. Hughes
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.