October 2022: Rev Calum Stark
Each month throughout 2022, 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 Calum Stark, minister for Avendale and Drumclog Church in Strathaven, Lanarkshire, speaks about his role as parish minister and as a participant in the Church of Scotland's Path of Renewal Programme.
My ministry: Rev Calum Stark, Minister for Avendale and Drumclog Church in Strathaven, Lanarkshire
What led you to become a Christian?
I attended a local Church of Scotland as a young boy, but followed in my elder brothers' footsteps by moaning about it so much that I no longer had to go when I reached the age of 11!
I also enjoyed a number of Scripture Union (SU) camps but was more interested in the activities than listening to any talks!
My first experience of feeling challenged to consider my own response to Jesus came when I was 13 years old after a friend returned from an SU camp completely changed through faith.
We had many a discussion; however, I decided, after some wrestling, to park the issue, but the question of Jesus was never far from my mind. In 1991 my mother asked me if I wanted to go with her to Murrayfield to hear a speaker called Billy Graham – given my enthusiasm for rugby I was quick to agree.
This sparked a chain of events which led me to a point where I made a commitment the following week at the age of 17.
Your background is in law and HR, so what led you to make the journey towards a career in ministry?
I went to University in Dundee and studied law and I found that the Christian Union helped solidify my faith and enabled me to find my feet as a young adult.
After studying law, I quickly realised that the legal profession was not for me, so I went on to pursue a career in human resource management. During this time, I found myself increasingly being drawn into pastoral situations while also being aware of professional boundaries that I could not cross.
It was this feeling of tension combined with my increased sense of faith and involvement in church that led me to inquire about ministry within the Church of Scotland. Things moved quickly from that point on, and after a number of affirmations and encouragements I realised that this was definitely the path God was leading me on and I became a candidate for the ministry.
Who has helped inspire you on your journey?
Earlier in life, whilst I was taking my honours exams at university, my eldest brother died of cancer. This had a profound impact upon my faith, due to the fact that he became a Christian in his last years and I visibly saw the impact this had upon him as he faced death.
Despite this being a painful time in which I wrestled with many tough questions, I experienced the peace of God in the midst of darkness, and this has been something that I long for others to experience too.
During my ministry training, Rev Norman Smith was a source of inspiration as he encouraged me to follow God's guidance and helped me recognise that He could use my weaknesses for His glory. Norman gently pushed me beyond myself at times and that was precisely what I needed in order to learn to depend on God.
What have you found most challenging and rewarding about parish ministry?
I have enjoyed ministry in Macduff, Bellshill and now in Strathaven and have also had the opportunity to do two pulpit swaps with ministers from the United States.
This has enabled me to meet a real variety of people which has always kept things interesting! The most challenging experience has been conducting funerals for much loved congregational members who have died sometimes suddenly and tragically.
The most rewarding aspect of ministry has been to see people come to faith and watch their lives being changed by God. It has also been great to observe members of the church step out in faith and engage in mission by using their gifts, especially when they have been wary of doing so.
You are among the ministers who has taken part in the Path of Renewal mission renewal movement. What did that involve and what impact has that had on your own ministry?
Being part of the Path of Renewal was a great experience which developed my thinking in terms of what it means to be a part of the Church.
During the three-year period of conferences and meeting with other ministers I learnt the importance of taking regular stock of the activities, focus and direction of the church, giving primary consideration to the missional focus.
It also helped me to recognise the significance of involving, enabling and equipping others within a culture of risk taking and experimentation.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about following a calling into ministry?
I have to admit that I was quite tentative in my initial steps of response to the call of God.
I felt that there were numerous others who were better equipped for the task. However, a wise man from my home church took me aside and explained to me that bringing weakness before God was precisely part of the call and would enable me to test it.
I would encourage others who feel a sense of call but have questions relating to their own abilities to step forwards and look for God's enabling power.
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.