October 2023: Rev George Sneddon
The Church of Scotland's ‘Talking Ministry' series shares personal stories 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, we meet Rev George Sneddon, who is approaching the first anniversary of his ordination as an assistant minister of the Church of Scotland.
My ministry: Rev George Sneddon, Minister of Word and Sacrament, Mossneuk Parish Church, East Kilbride
Following a career in banking, Rev George Sneddon followed a call to serve and studied theology at the University of Glasgow before embarking on training to become a Minister of Word and Sacrament with the Church of Scotland.
Based at Mossneuk Parish Church in East Kilbride, he lives nearby in his home village of Kirkmuirhill with his Jack Russell/Staffie cross, Jack.
Has faith always been a part of your life?
I can distinctly remember growing up in a no-faith family, although in the background there were a diverse range of beliefs and I remember my grandmother telling me about different aspects of her own faith. She had a small glass crucifix next to her bed, and her rosary beads hung over her lamp.
My mum often speaks about the times I'd stand at our lounge window and watch everyone go to church. There was always a yearning, a gnawing away.
I have always been seriously theological, even when I wasn't a Christian. I always sought knowledge and I enjoyed reading different religious texts and academic literature. I am a history nerd, so I loved Greco-Roman culture, which joined up with the New Testament, and I loved Egypt and Persia, which joined in well with ancient Israel. So, it was always there.
I always say that the Lord and I crossed many a path without me knowing.
But I became a Christian about 2009, when I started to question death and life.
I lost some of the most wonderful members of my family, and could not contemplate it. I remember wanting to run away with my dog, and I did. I sat on a bench across from my local parish church in Kirkmuirhill, and they had a mission banner on the fence which said ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.'
I then went to my aunt's funeral and the minister preached the Gospel and I felt as though God spoke directly to me.
From there, I responded, reached out, and my minister gently guided me in my scripture reading, my research and, most importantly, my prayer life.
There were times I fell away, and back and forward, as I struggled with the discipline and the commitment. But it was true that from that moment, God placed a call on me to recognise He had chosen me, not just at that moment, but from the beginning of time. It still amazes me. Great is His faithfulness, that I am so humbled by it.
Your professional background is in banking, so what prompted you to consider a change of career?
Well, I actually don't think I changed career. I feel I am now doing what God called me to do. I had a great life: a very well-paid job, a lovely car, my own home, great family connections and my former work in the bank gave me one of my closest and dearest friends, who is one of the joys of my life.
It also gave me opportunities to work in different parts of the UK. It enabled me to travel and I worked not specifically with money or transactional banking – I was a senior leader in things like equality and diversity, coaching management, and engagement. I was passionate about people seeing their worth.
One afternoon, when I was visiting a branch of the bank I worked for, one staff member was so heartbroken about a family situation at home that I just wanted to pray for him. But I couldn't.
I also remember buying 200 hot-cross buns at Easter to give to staff, but was told to bin them because it wasn't appropriate to talk about religion and faith at work. It deeply frustrated my soul.
My friend, Rev Kaye Gardiner, who ended up studying with me at university, gave me the number to enquire about ministry and I've just followed the path since. We even both grew in faith at Kirkmuirhill – you can't make that stuff up.
Why did you want to be a minister of Word and Sacrament?
I actually was very clear from the beginning of my call by God that it was to leadership in the church.
I am, by nature, a leader. I have the skills and gifts of leadership.
When my local church split over a theological issue, I found myself supporting evening worship, or leading the prayer fellowship, or designing the website, or outreach literature. I had a very clear sense too of pastoral ministry – coming alongside people intimately and discipling.
I have a very concerned call in my heart about evangelism, the sort you find in Acts: healings, raising the dead, teaching and sharing, breaking bread and praying. Great revival in the Church will come by the renewing of our minds, stepping out of heavy religiosity and leaning on what the early encountering church did. I can support the Church nationally and locally better, by being a Minister of Word and Sacrament.
What has surprised you in your ministry?
I am still surprised by the shoots of life that you see in the Church of Scotland. People of all ages are still coming to Jesus.
They are doing so fruitfully when the churches combine Word (faithful preaching of the Bible) with Spirit (a leaning into and freeing up of the spiritual gifts and work of the Spirit). So often I see the heaviness of religion and law, and so very little do I see the freedom paid for by the expensive blood of Jesus. I want God to keep pushing me into that dimension so that I can keep seeing people recognise the Lord's absolute beauty and His wonderful kind nature as they meet Him for the first time.
What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
I love all the joys and the challenges that come with ministry. My session clerk often says I attract dramatic events – and I probably do. I love that everything isn't easy and free flowing for me.
Nothing good ever comes easy and I serve a Lord who endured all hardship. I serve a Lord who had to die to save me. I can't really expect to be a minister and live on a velvet cushion. It's hard because it's supposed to be, so I adore the challenges it brings.
Since becoming minister at Mossneuk, you have seen a flourishing of faith in the community. How has this been achieved?
Really it has come by way of opening up myself to the Holy Spirit and being led by Him first. I used to prepare my sermons for Sunday weeks in advance, but I recognised that I was leading myself. I want to give the congregation I serve in words of wisdom and knowledge that come from the Lord, I don't want them to be mine. So very often recently, when I think I'm sorted for Sunday, He calls on me to change everything I've written. I'm more attentive to His voice than I've ever been. That has brought growth.
There are challenges, of course, but I would say I am seeing a flourishing and a moving forward, and It's an answer to prayer.
Who have been your inspirations on the way?
I have so many people who inspire me, and have inspired me. My initial reaction here was to rhyme off my lecturers and my supervisors, but the more I think about my inspiration I know that it has been and will always be my Mum. I have wonderful parents, who encourage me and guide me.
My Mum joined the church not long after I did, in 2009, and we have worshipped together. She comes to Mossneuk with me now, despite the travel, and she has thrown herself into supporting my ministry. She is an extension of what I am and what I do and is integral to the way my ministry has developed. She is the loving arms of Jesus to those who come through the door. Her simple faith and compassionate heart speak to me in ways nobody ever has. Both her and my Dad are my closest friends. God gifted me very good and kind parents.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given or would like to give?
The best piece of advice I was ever given was by my driving instructor Archie, when I was learning to drive.
He told me: ‘When you are wrong, back down and apologise, but when you are right, fight for the truth.'
He wasn't a Christian at all, but that really imprinted on my heart.
I am not afraid of being wrong, but I will always fight for the truth. That is the really important part of ministry and it's the same advice I would give to anyone.
There is truth we must stand for. Peter says we must be equipped and prepared to always give an answer to the reason we have hope. We must stand in the truth of the Gospel and never waver – even if the world attacks us for it. That is the sacrificial call to all Christians, ministers, elders, congregants, deacons, staff and all who believe on the Lord Jesus – stand firm, He is True to His word.
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.