October 2021: Taking the Risk
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 October, Rev Mandy Ralph speaks about her journey to become a full-time minister of word and sacrament and we explore the theme: Taking the risk.
My ministry: Rev Mandy Ralph, Minister of Word and Sacrament at the linked charges of Annbank and Tarbolton
Former nurse Rev Mandy Ralph spent five years as an Ordained Local Minister before becoming a full-time Minister of Word and Sacrament when she was inducted to the linked charges of Annbank and Tarbolton in South Ayrshire in 2019. She sits on the Church of Scotland's Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group.
When did you become a Christian?
I joined the church St Johns in Largs when I was almost 18 years of age, just before I started my training as a nurse. I had been involved in church activities for a few years and had attended Sunday School, Juco's [Sunday school for teens in the 70s], and Scripture Union and felt a strong pull to acknowledge my faith and make a commitment to follow in faith.
How would you describe your journey into ministry?
Unintentional and a bit of a surprise. It was my own minister who suggested it might be something I consider. I had volunteered as a Sunday School leader and served for over ten years. Then became an Elder and more involved in the life of the church whilst exploring my own spirituality. I think my minister saw something in me that I didn't (I wasn't really sure I was minister material to be honest, far too outspoken!). But I was invited to wander down the discernment path.
Why did you want to be a minister of Word and Sacrament?
At first, I applied and was accepted for what was Auxiliary Ministry, which then became Ordained Local Ministry (OLM), as I felt I wanted to incorporate my work as a district nurse and my faith together. I felt there was something to be explored in doing so and working to serve in this way. Only as time went on did I feel the call to full-time ministry. I served as an OLM first for five years and then transferred and was inducted into the linked charges of Annbank and Tarbolton in October 2019.
Have you had many surprises and disappointments?
There have been lots of challenges along the way. Having to come to terms with several life-changing bereavements during my training. Encountering racism from people in the pew, in some parishes and from fellow ministers. But equally I have been blessed with great support and, from the situations encountered have sprung, with God's guidance, ways of supporting others experiencing grief and racial injustice. One of the things to come from this was being involved in the setting up of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group and from that the sub-group who are undertaking Research on Ethnic Minorities within the Church of Scotland, looking at inequalities and injustice and how as a church we can address these issues and be fully inclusive.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
Don't try and be like anyone else, just be yourself because that's who God called.
Who has helped to inspire you on your journey?
Friends and prayer pals within my home congregation in Largs where I grew up.
Rev Andrew McGurk and Rev James McNay. Colleagues I have worked with who are passionate about the church flourishing, especially in rural communities and, importantly for me - Nelson Mandela.
October Discernment Resources: Taking the Risk
What am I being asked to do?
The stories of faith are full of risk takers: Abraham, Rahab, Priscilla, Paul and many more. When we think about our lives and the way we live them in the context of our faith, such stories give us glimpses of how others have lived, and the choices they have made. Our faith stories are colourful, and the story of Jesus reveals actions taken, decisions made and their consequences.
When we are at a crossroads discerning choices, it is exciting, scary and challenging. The myriad characters in our Bible stories are overwhelming, awfully heroic. Abraham hears a voice asking him to give up everything familiar and he does. Paul sends Priscilla to the capital of C1st oppression to explain his Letter to the fledgling Roman Christians, and she goes! Jesus makes for Jerusalem that final time, knowing it is the city that kills the prophets. Our faith may call us to step away from familiar things and people, and in order to be capable of doing that, to be able to survive unknown rigours, we are surely called to reasonably prepare and question.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." 28 "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." 29 "Come," he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 The others who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."
St Matthew 14 vv 22 - 33
We are all called by God to do something, and we believe God knows us very, very well. The stories of faith are often about people finding incredible strength and courage to do amazing, miraculous things for God. Such stories, such examples are energising, inspiring, even catalysing.
But Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible."
St Matthew 19 v6
Running within and through rich Biblical seams are details which are also steadying, wise, orientating and grounding as our hearts beat faster at our crossroads. An outstanding detail in Peter's story above is that he wasn't alone. He was with the disciples in the boat, and with Jesus when he got out of it. He did an impossible thing using the well of friendship, inspired by Jesus.
American writer Margaret Wheatley is a management consultant. She studies change theory, leadership styles, chaos theory and how people and organisations learn, in particular our capacity to self-organise. Pastor Tod Bolsinger includes this quote by her in his book:
It is possible to prepare for the future without knowing what it will be. The primary way to prepare for the unknown is to attend to the quality of our relationships, to how well we know and trust one another.
Pastor Tod Bolsinger, 'Canoeing The Mountains'
To Contemplate/discuss/pray for …
I'm approaching/ I've reached a crossroads in my life. How am I feeling?
When I think about not making a change, to remaining in the life I know, how do I feel?
When I imagine taking a step towards the unknown, is there a Biblical story which keeps coming back to me?
Who can I talk to, to explore how I'm feeling, to discern next steps?
What are the risks at this point in my life? Who are the sources of help and sustaining support?
What should I let go of, and what should I take hold of to discern and walk my life of faith?
Risky, Creator God, when light pierced dark in the moment of Creation, Nothing became Something. Your miraculous move urges us all to change and grow. Chance and surprise are inevitable. You know us in our marrow and we seek the same understanding. Draw acuity and kindness from deep in ourselves to assess our unknown future and prepare for measureless risk, even if we remain in our known way. Always in your name, Jesus Christ. 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.