September 2022: Rev Lorna Tunstall
Each month, the Church of Scotland's ‘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.
For September, Rev Lorna Tunstall talks about her work as a Minister of Word and Sacrament and we explore the theme: Ministry and me.
My ministry: Rev Lorna Tunstall, Minister of Word and Sacrament at Clyne linked with Kildonan and Loth Helmsdale churches in Sutherland
Rev Lorna Tunstall was ordained as minister of Clyne Parish Church in Brora and the linked charge of Kildonan and Loth Helmsdale two years ago this month.
Originally from Edinburgh, she lived and worked in England for a number of years before moving back to Scotland in 2005.
Previously a project manager in the telecommunications industry, she lives in Sutherland with her husband Mark and ‘a very well-pampered' cocker spaniel.
What is your religious background?
I guess I have always been a Christian. I was baptised in St Michael's Parish Church in Slateford in Edinburgh and my mum has a very strong faith and she would always take my sister and I to church and to Sunday school. When we moved south as children, my mum joined a United Reform Church, so church has always been part of my life, but I think I'm probably typical of my generation that when I went to university, I was not a regular worshipper.
It wasn't until we moved back to Scotland and the village of Inchture that my faith formed a much bigger part of my life.
A lot of it was to do with that feeling of fellowship. There was just something lovely about having a church around the corner and automatically feeling part of the church family again.
After a successful career in the telecoms sector, what made you decide you wanted to serve as a Minster of Word and Sacrament?
When I went to Inchture, I became a member then very quickly became an elder, helped out at the Sunday school and was session clerk for a little while, so very quickly I became quite an integral part of the church. Our minister, Rev Dr Marjory MacLean, appointed an assistant minister, Rev Professor Alison Jack, who is now Assistant Principal of New College School of Divinity at Edinburgh.
Alison trained three of us to be able to lead worship because there were four worshipping congregations in that linkage, so we were given permission by Dundee Presbytery to preach.
Marjory and Alison must have seen something in me and advised me to go to a vocations conference, so I did and thought it was wonderful, but still felt ministry wasn't for me.
But then I made a joke with Marjory that world mission looked fun and perhaps I could go to somewhere like the Caribbean. Then lo and behold Marjory had a word with Ian Alexander, the secretary of the World Mission Council.
I ended up serving on the Council for a number of years and loved every minute of it, even if the furthest I got was Coatbridge, but I then went on a residential week and ended up chatting to groups of ministers in the evening and it was as though there was a big light in my head and I couldn't ignore this calling any longer.
If I'm truthful, I thought that I would be retiring early to a village in Spain. I certainly did not imagine myself going back to university, doing a degree, doing all the practical training and becoming a minister. That wouldn't have been on the radar if you'd asked me 10 or 15 years ago.
What were the biggest challenges along the way?
I was 50 when I started my training again, so going back to the world of academia and sitting exams again, I found really hard, but I also had a very particular personal challenge.
In my final year at university, I was diagnosed with cancer. I didn't even know if I could continue with my studies and my ministry, but I had surgery, I had radiotherapy and I did that all whilst doing my final year and sitting my exams. I graduated with a 2.1 and it's really the only time I have patted myself on the back and said: ‘Well done you!'
It was a challenge, but my faith and my studies got me through and gave me something bigger to focus on. Everyone at New College was wonderful too and just kept me going.
You have described your ordination in Sutherland as "a homecoming". What is it about Sutherland that makes it such a special place to be a minister?
I didn't even know where Brora was until 2017 when I did my summer placement at Dornoch Cathedral. The congregation in Brora had the foresight to rent out the manse and allowed me to stay there for a nominal rent. I just fell completely in love with the place.
The Very Rev Susan Brown, who was minister at Dornoch Cathedral at the time, used to talk about Dornoch being ‘a thin place' where the boundary of heaven and earth just seemed to merge. I feel that absolutely here in Brora and throughout Sutherland. The beauty of God's creation is just all around you and it is a different pace of life, which I just love – and my maiden name is Sutherland, so it does feel like I've come home. You have the same challenges you have in other rural areas, but there is that community feel where everyone knows one another and you don't have to ask people to do anything pastorally. It just comes naturally.
As someone still in the early days of your ministry, what has surprised or amazed you about the role?
There is so much, even on a weekly basis, that can surprise you. No day is the same. You can start the week on a Monday thinking what the shape of your week will be, but a few phone calls come in and change everything.
But it is such a privilege as well, the way that people invite you into their lives. I'm lucky; I was Interim Moderator at Dornoch Cathedral when Susan left the area and I have conducted lots of weddings there, but I think it is in the funerals that people open up to you in ways that they wouldn't normally open up to anyone else. I feel that is where we do our most valuable work as ministers.
And what are your hopes for your ministry and the Church in general?
There is obviously a lot of uncertainty about the future. However, I really do hope that out of that we can streamline our practices and become better at sharing resources, sharing ideas, and adopting a smarter way of being able to maximise outreach and hopefully being able to offer something different outside of Sunday worship for people to attend.
I am encouraged that there are still a lot of people coming through who want to fulfil the role of ministry, so that gives great hope for the future, and I am hoping I can train to be a supervisor because I am so aware of the influence that good support, such as the support I have received from Marjory, Susan and Alison, can have as you are training. It is vital.
September Discernment Resources: Ministry and me?
When we start feeling a pull towards ministry, our call can sometimes seem as if it were a call to a busier form of life for God. We didn't do much in the Church before, and now we're being challenged to do a lot more. Or so it seems. But is it as simple as this? Consider the story of Mary and Martha:
Now as they went on their way, he [Jesus] entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.' But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.'
This is a complex passage, which draws out some of the contrasts and paradoxes of ministry. We have the contrast of activity versus apparent inactivity. We see different understandings of what it means to listen to God, one focussed on tasks and another on spending time with Christ. We notice the contrast between a ministry based on practical service and administration and one focussed on teaching and prayer. We see that, though Martha opened her door to Jesus, we can open the door to Christ in one way while closing it in another.
Mary and Martha also remind us, however, that whether we seek to serve God with busyness or with deepening intimacy, God loves us the same. For while they served God differently, because they kept faith with him, he worked wonders for them, and raised their brother Lazarus from the grave.
Questions for Reflection
In my restlessness for something new, am I being called to do less or to do more?
Is ministry mainly about doing, or being who God wants me to be?
Am I being called to teach, or serve, or both?
Do I need to deepen my relationship with Christ before being ready to serve him?
What does it mean to lead?
Lord Jesus, we do not understand ourselves. We rush to activity when we should rest, and slumber, when you would command our attention. Help us not to lean on our understanding, or on the opinions of those around us, but to lean into you, and there find our purpose, our identity, and our place. In your strong name we pray. Amen.
Each one of us has some kind of vocation. We are all called by God to share in His life and in His Kingdom. Each one of us is called to a special place in the Kingdom. If we find that place we will be happy. If we do not find it, we can never be completely happy. For each one of us, there is only one thing necessary: to fulfill our own destiny, according to God's will, to be what God wants us to be.
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.