January: Rooted in God
Each month throughout 2021, the Church of Scotland’s new ‘Talking Ministry’ series will share a personal story from those serving in Christian ministry in the widest sense, including those who have responded to the call to one of our four recognised ministries: Full-time Ministry of Word and Sacrament, Ordained Local Ministry (OLM), the Diaconate and Readership.
Alongside these personal stories, there will also be new monthly discernment resources filled with questions, prayers and reflections to help encourage your own reflection on how God might be calling you at this time.
Personal Story: Rev Scott Burton
Rev Scott Burton was ordained and inducted into Brightons Parish Church in Falkirk Presbytery in January 2019. The 37 year old is a graduate of Highland Theological College in Dingwall (distance learning). He is also the Interim Moderator of Blackbraes and Shieldhill linked with Muiravonside Parish Churches in Falkirk Presbytery. He is married to Gill with whom he has a four-year-old daughter, Hope.
When did you become a Christian?
I grew up in Whitburn in West Lothian and attended Brucefield Church with my gran. I went to Sunday school and was involved in the youth fellowship.
After school I had a gap year, then went to Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh to study chemical engineering and it was just prior to starting uni that I properly came to faith at the age of 19. My life was becoming quite selfish and having a negative impact on others around me and I needed God’s forgiveness to sort my life out. It was a lightbulb moment for me that led to a few years of intensive growth in my faith.
It was during my time at university that I felt my calling into Christian ministry, in particular to youth work. So, part-way through my Chem Eng degree I transferred to study Youth Work with Applied Theology at the International Christian College in Glasgow.
Following graduation from ICC, I worked for Morningside Baptist Church in Edinburgh as the youth pastor from 2007-10, then worked for the Scout Association as a development officer for the south east of Scotland for five years. It was during that period of my life that I felt a pull back into ministry, this time within the Church of Scotland.
How would you describe your journey into ministry?
There have definitely been ups and downs and the sense of God’s call has been with me since I was called into youth work at age 20. I thought I would be in youth work long term but God had other plans for me.
My time with the Scouts was interesting and I benefited so much in different ways, such as nurturing a real heart for development and renewal which I am trying to bring to Brightons. It is a healthy church in many ways and before the COVID-19 lockdown, 150 adults attended on a Sunday morning, the Sunday School had about 50 children and there are healthy Boys and Girls Brigade Companies. However, we still have an aging congregation so we have to renew and engage better with our local community.
Why did you want to be a minister of Word and Sacrament?
It is one of the most life-giving and challenging calls you can ever receive. I would not change it for a second despite all the challenges, the ups and downs, the tensions and self-doubt that comes with it.
I love being called by God to share him with people. Whether that is preaching his Word on a Sunday or sharing with kids in a primary school, young people in high school and older people in the community. God is relevant with every age and stage in life.
I love the development aspect and every day is a new day, every day is different. We always have to be growing, developing and pushing the boundaries. It keeps it very fresh.
One of the real strengths around ministry is there is no one size fits all. Whatever your strengths, your experience, your gifts, God can use them. We all do slightly different things and key to it is we all want to help people grow in their relationship with God through His Word. The role is wider than just being in the pulpit and doing pastoral work. We also lead. I have invested a lot of time nurturing the elders in the hope that if I can nurture change among them, then it will flow elsewhere.
For me, being a minister is about following God into the unknown and on an adventure, and part of that for me has been a sense of call to help renew the church in Brightons and across the Braes. [That] is why I am happy to be the Interim Moderator of a linked charge so early into ministry and play a key role in helping the seven churches in the Braes move towards a Hub ministry this summer.
Have you had many surprises and disappointments?
It is always tricky coming in to minister to an established congregation with new ideas on how to preach the Word and reach out in today’s climate. There can be tension between navigating the old and new, keeping church as a place for those who grew up with it and doing things differently to inspire a new generation. There is a line to walk and when it comes to music, for example, we have an organ and a band.
We offer live and streamed services for those who cannot come to the church building. Online worship has been crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic and prayer meeting numbers have quadrupled. We have invested significantly in technology so even after we return to the sanctuary we will not be cutting off people who are at home. However, people are missing being in church in person.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
I recently read this piece of advice – ‘we won’t show up healthy if we show up empty’. One of the key lessons for me is trying to lead a balanced life - being equally invested in my faith, my family and my ministry.
My probation supervisor, Rev Brian Hilsley, talked about how even in difficult situations, you still have to maintain a love for the people you are called to serve. So, if you are not receiving God’s love for yourself, you won’t have that love to give to others in tough times. That forces a change in how we do things, how we live and what we expect of ministers. It is not a 9-5 job and I have had some very long 12-14 hour days. But if you come across people who are broken and hurting and you are frazzled and burnt out, how can you give of yourself and maintain that posture of grace and love for people?
Who has helped to inspire you on your journey?
My supervisor at the Scout Association was a great guy called Alan and the husband of a Church of Scotland minister. He was a true encourager as is my long-term friend Gordon. He is a real inspiration and the person I spoke to the most when I felt a call back into ministry. I was also inspired by the folks in the Christian Union at Heriot Watt, who helped instil a passion and a confidence in me about my faith that I would not have got anywhere else.
Within and after my 15-month probation at Aberlady and Gullane Parish Churches my supervisor, Rev Brian Hilsley, was brilliant. Your probation supervisor is so key and Brian was the best supervisor to have. He was such an encouragement and our friendship will last decades. There are things that come up during your first five years in the parish and you think ‘I don’t know what to do here’. Brian is the kind of person who I can pick up the phone to and ask him what he suggests.
Another great source of inspiration has been the book Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory as it helped me see that I don’t have to have all the answers and that by asking questions, taking risk, experimenting and staying true to God’s call upon us we, as a congregation, can move forward together into whatever God leads us to next.
January Discernment Resources
Who am I?
When we think of our Christian faith, it defines in many ways how we understand ourselves in relation to God. It also underpins how we understand ourselves in relation to others and the world around us. Knowing that we are loved and held by God offers us an identity that is bound up in something much greater than the unique life we live.
To understand that we not only belong to God, but are part of the wider Christian family is a powerful thing. How do we understand our place, our part, our call to serve in the living of our lives?
The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him — though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’.
We are all called by God to something…in all our seeking and searching, God is calling each of us to discover who we most fully are in this relationship. God is not far from us, and has revealed in Jesus Christ and by the Spirit this real and refreshing presence that shapes our days and our destination.
This call is always a journey, and movement is at the heart of any journey. Where we are today in our relationship with God may be quite different than in the past, and perhaps God is leading us on to something new. Our identity is God is being continually reshaped as we open ourselves to what God is doing and saying now.
O LORD, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Beginning from here, how do I think of myself in relation to God?
Is this relationship one of movement or does it feel static?
What could I do to deepen and develop my faith?
What are the patterns that have shaped my faith journey?
Who are the people that accompany me on the way?
Is God saying something new to me today?
God of each and every moment, I thank you that you have given me a home in you. You hear me and hold me, and offer a life of fullness. Help me to know your call and assurance in my life, and to keep exploring with you where that journey may lead. Amen
“Now, with God's help, I shall become myself.”
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.