July 2022: Rev Gillian Rooney
Each month, the Church of Scotland's ‘Talking Ministry' series will share a personal story from those serving in Christian ministry.
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.
For July, Rev Gillian Rooney speaks about her role as the minister of Word and Sacrament at Orchardhill Parish Church in Glasgow, and we explore the theme: Where the Spririt Leads.
My ministry: Rev Gillian Rooney, Minister of Orchardhill Parish Church, Glasgow
Rev Gillian Rooney was ordained and inducted into her first charge as minister to Orchardhill Parish Church in Glasgow in December last year.
Prior to training as a minister, Gillian spent 20 years working as an occupational therapist, but she sees her move into ministry as a continuation of a career of serving and supporting people.
Married to Mark, the couple have three children, 12-year-old twins Sally and Clara and seven-year-old Martha.
You have taken a slightly unusual path towards your first charge, where you arrived as a probationer and stayed on to become minister. How did that come about?
I wanted to go to Orchardhill on probation to work with the minister at the time, Grant Barclay, who I knew would be a really good supervisor. I arrived in September and in November he told me he was leaving so I tried not to take that personally!
I asked if I should move on, but I was told I could stay and be supervised remotely, so that's what happened.
John Miller was appointed as interim moderator, but I stayed on as locum and it was a really good experience for me because I was able to have a bit more freedom. I wasn't following anyone else's programme for sermons and services and I could really experiment with what I wanted to do. It was daunting, but it turned out to be a good thing and I was really well supported by John and my supervisor Jim Teasdale, who is at a neighbouring parish church.
It's just been extremely positive, not just for me, but for the congregation as well because there was never any gap in their provision and by the time Grant left in January, they knew me a bit better.
To be honest, I wasn't sure when I first arrived that Orchardhill would be the type of church for me because it was quite different from my home church, but as I got to know the people and the area better my preconceptions were challenged, and I started to see that I could minister there.
I did think: Can it be this easy to find your first charge? But as one of my friends said to me: Do you not believe that God wants the best for you? If it is so easy, that's OK – you don't have to be spat out of the mouth of a whale. It can be a bit more straightforward.
Your background is in the NHS. What led you to change careers?
I was an occupational therapist, but I don't feel that this is a second career. My experience with the NHS was preparation for this part of my life.
I'm really comfortable going into people's homes and visiting them, I'm quite good at listening and hearing their stories and I suppose my core desire is that people flourish and live independent lives. Just because as a minister that has a more spiritual side, it doesn't mean that it's very different.
I suppose it began for me when I was on maternity leave and feeling a bit frustrated with what I could offer people within the NHS because you are only with them for a short time. There is a need for human contact and to hear their stories, and it was clear that there wasn't time for that.
My minister at the time was preparing for a vacancy and he invited people to be more involved in service preparation and worship and I started to do that.
We also had a student who was studying at Highland Theological College, who told me about how you could study from home. So I started thinking about it and eventually applied for a module and it just snowballed from there.
When I was a young Christian, I went to a couple of African Inland Mission conferences. I had this notion that I might want to do something in the missionary field when I was retired or older, but what I felt God was saying to me was: "Why not here? Why not now?"
I said to my husband that I might want to become a minister and I thought he would say "don't be ridiculous", but he actually said he could absolutely see me doing that and I was a bit taken aback. I started talking to other people, just telling them that I felt called to ministry and people didn't laugh, so I spoke to my minister, and then applied to HTC to take it further.
How much of a challenge has it been to begin your ministry career against the background of the COVID pandemic?
I loved my training, but of course I finished my degree at the start of the pandemic with the kids homeschooling at the same time, so it was a bit hectic to say the least.
Then, when I became a probationer, I had to learn new skills and abilities. I didn't realise I'd have to be doing television presenting or that televangelism would be within my repertoire, but it turns out I'm not bad at video editing!
While the pandemic was at times a real struggle, it also opened up more opportunities. The church I am in now livestreams services which means people who aren't able to be with us in person are able to reconnect with us. It is such a good thing for folk who can't access church in the traditional way.
For me, that is one of the really good things that has come out of the pandemic.
What would be your advice to someone who thinks they may have a calling to be a minister?
Talk to people. Talk to your friends, talk to your loved ones, talk to your minister.
Test it out and don't be afraid to speak out, because you might be surprised. I was preaching on Sunday about the disciples being astonished about Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well and for me, God has always been about astonishing people.
What have been the biggest surprises for you as a new minister?
The biggest surprise is just the breadth of what we do and the roles that you actually assume.
I suppose I did half-know that as a minister you are a Jack-of-all-trades, but I didn't actually realise how much. I've officiated at funerals and weddings but I am also involved in event planning, film editing, holding babies so mums can have their tea or lunch and even the odd bit of first aid.
You are just involved in such a breadth of life and it really is from babies to the very elderly.
We have had some of the most astonishing successes.
Orchardhill is in Giffnock in Glasgow and is a vibrant church with a lot happening. It has a good hall which allows us to run quite a lot of groups, and we have a youth worker who has had quite a lot of success in working with families and young people.
We now run a toddlers' café and the relationships that I have with the mothers, the grannies and the kids has given us a platform that allows us to speak to them and invite them into the church family. People want to talk about spiritual things and are hungry for that opportunity.
For me, that has been so pivotal and so central. It's been about my relationship with God, my relationship with other people and their relationship with God and how I can help them to develop that.
As someone at the start of your ministry career, are you positive about the future of the church?
I am positive for the future and excited.
There is lots of willingness to learn and develop and grow and try new things and I've been really surprised at how willing people have been to have a go at things. That has been really amazing for me.
I don't think the Church will be the same as it was, but I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. That's part of the astonishment of God, that it can't just be the same all the time and there has got to be room for development and new learning.
Sometimes you thing there is nothing happening, but there are lots of things happening if we keep listening to God.
I feel like I've been preaching the whole of my ministry about change, but that for me is a really important part of what we are doing.
We are trying to change the world and we need to have people who are willing to change and have ministers who are willing to lead on that change as well - which is why I think this is such a great job, and I would heartily recommend it to anybody.
July Discernment Resources: Where the Spirit Leads
What is God saying?
God calls every believer to a life of service and gives each of us gifts and talents so we can serve. Sometimes we know exactly what it is we are to do. That can be great news, but not if we'd rather do something different.
Sometimes we struggle to work out what our calling is. We're not sure what God wants.
Sometimes God's signals are contradictory. One day we think it's one thing, the next another.
God guides us by the Holy Spirit. One of the pictures Scripture uses to describe the Holy Spirit is wind.
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Sometimes the wind is strong, unmistakeable and inescapable. Sometimes the wind is gentle, subtle and unobtrusive. Sometimes the wind changes direction, swinging round from the east to the west. Whether it's a gale or a breeze, and no matter the direction it comes from the wind is intangible, uncontrollable and irresistible. So it is with the Spirit of God. We cannot contain the Holy Spirit. We cannot bend the Spirit to our will. The Spirit will not be co-opted to our agenda. Where the Spirit leads we must follow.
Such a simple idea … until we try to put it into practice.
Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
O still small voice of calm!
John Greenleaf Whittier
What do I do if the wind is blowing strongly in a direction and it's not the one I want to go in? What do I do if I sense God is calling me along a path that will throw all my well-laid plans into confusion?
What do I do if the breeze is very gentle and I can't work out which direction it is coming from? What do I do if I can't work out what God is calling me to?
What do I do if the wind keeps changing direction, one day from the east, the next from the west? What do I do when I get strong prompts from God but they are not consistent?
God's people often find discernment to be frustratingly intangible, just like the wind. Perhaps these questions may help you.
If you don't want to go in the direction you are being pointed towards …
Why is it that I am resisting the direction God seems to be blowing in? Who might I talk to about this to help me work out if this is genuinely the Spirit's leading?
If you can't work out where the wind is coming from …
How might I create a pool of quiet, or a pattern of stillness so I can listen for the Spirit's gentle prompts? How might I reduce the volume of background noise in my life so I can hear the ‘still small voice of calm'?
If you are pulled in different directions …
In what direction is the prevailing wind blowing? Keep a record over a period of time: what is the persistent thing I'm aware of God saying to me?
Holy Spirit, wind of God, show me the way to go.
Holy Spirit, breeze of God, give me courage to follow.
Holy Spirit, breathe of God, calm my anxious heart.
Holy Spirit, life of God, enable me to serve you. 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.