April: A Time for Everything

Each month throughout 2021, 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 April, Rev Andrew Gardner speaks about his role as an interim minister and we explore the theme: A time for everything.

My ministry: Rev Andrew Gardner

After 21 years in ministry, including 14 years in the international presbytery whilst minister of St Andrew's Church of Scotland in Brussels, Rev Dr Andrew Gardner became an interim minister. Here he explains more about the role they play within the Church of Scotland and how it helps to keep his ministry fresh. Dr Gardner is married to Julie and has two daughters.

What is your current role?

For the last two years I've been part of the interim ministry team. I was appointed in September 2018 and started the post at Christ's Kirk Glenrothes in January 2019. I'll be starting at Barnhill St Margaret's in Broughty Ferry in the next few weeks, which will bring a new set of challenges to work through with the congregation.

What is interim ministry?

Our role as interim ministers is to be a non-anxious presence. A congregation or a presbytery may ask for an interim minister if they've had a short ministry in the past, or a very long ministry or a minister has died or if there's some conflict. It's where there has been some kind of issue that needs settlement from an experienced minster. You're there for 18 months or two years and then you move on. You may or may not live in the manse.

Interim ministers work to objectives with the congregation which are set a couple of months into their ministry. These can include getting new elders to refresh the leadership, trying to get a congregation to look outwards, and settling conflict. It can give congregations a chance to think about the future. Good communication with a congregation is key.

What attracted you to this specific type of ministry?

Quite a few things – I'd been in the international presbytery for 14 years in Brussels and my wife got a job back in Scotland. I thought ‘what's next?' so I looked at a part-time chaplaincy job, I looked at a parish charge, and then I looked at interim ministry. By this point I had 21 years' experience of being a minister so had dealt with working through situations of conflict so I thought I had skills that I'd learnt from things I'd done in the past. My minister from when I was growing up in Callander had been an interim minister for 16 years and I knew someone else who was also an interim minister who is part of the current team too. I didn't want to go back in to a parish long-term. It's been a chance to do something different, to keep your ministry fresh and I'm still learning lots. It's really important to know what God is calling you to do.

How did you get into ministry initially?

I became a Christian before going to Glasgow University to study agricultural chemistry. I got a job after university as a trainee accountant in London and hated every moment of it – I couldn't count! Off and on I'd have a sense of a call to ministry – sometimes it was strong sometimes it wasn't; faith goes up and down. I decided to go home and I applied to be a research assistant, which I got as a job in Dundee in 1989 and stayed there for three and a half years. I stopped wrestling with the call to ministry – I said ‘ok Lord, if that is what you want me to do I'll test the waters.' I applied at an assessment conference and got through. The Church was flexible and let me finish my research, which was very helpful.

What have been the challenges of the last year?

The lows have been being physically distant from your congregation and wondering if I was doing enough by making contact with people over email, the phone, by text or by any method I could to keep regular contact and make sure people knew the church hadn't forgotten them. I've kept that going and will hand it over to other people as I leave. It took me a long time to adjust the fact in my head that just because I wasn't there didn't mean I wasn't doing anything. I struggled with that.

There have been challenges getting to grips with technology too, we've had a few fails when our internet crashed. Recently we've been providing a weekly Zoom service and weekly worship on Facebook and people have been appreciative of our efforts. We do have some members of the congregation who just can't access these platforms, though, which really concerns me so it's not straightforward.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about following a calling into ministry?

Persist with your sense of calling even if initially you are not accepted for training. Keep pushing at that door. Find mentors and form a good peer group and stick with them – you've got to have folk about you. Use the Church's resources – ministry can be tough, so use the pastoral support through Ascend. Don't pretend you're something you're not – go to the right place where your ministry will fit as a congregation will see through you quickly. Every congregation has its own story, its own challenges.

April Discernment Resources: A Time for Everything

For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

These well-known words from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes are often recited during funeral services or at moments of changes and transition. We may have heard them over and over, and they can be loved for both their familiarity and their timelessness.

But a note of caution needs to be sounded. If we tell ourselves that there's time for everything then we can very easily persuade ourselves that no present action is required; there will be time for that later. Aren't we all procrastinators at heart? There is a time for everything, but perhaps there isn't time for everything. Therefore, some things need doing now.

There are so many things that we could be doing with our lives and so much of that which would, undoubtedly, be worthwhile. But the result often is that it can be difficult to home in on that which we really should be doing, as being of highest importance and eternal significance.

How might I serve God is surely the question of all questions and it might just be that you need to consider it now. Yes, there's a time for everything but in the words of the Moloko classic song, ‘The Time is Now.'

Have you glimpsed something of the glory of God? Are you discovering more of who God is and, therefore, who you are? Are you on the journey of falling deeper in love with God? Has following in the footsteps of Jesus become what you're about?

Might God be calling you to serve - to give your life? Is it time?

Prayer

Loving Lord, it is so difficult to filter out the many voices that compete for my attention. I want, above all, to hear you but it's not easy. Noise and clamour and distractions are ever present.

My prayer is that you would seek me out in moments of stillness, brief as they might be - and there, that you would speak. I long to serve you, Lord, and to serve according to your will.

Is this the time? Is this my time?

Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.

In Jesus' name, AMEN.

Song Words for Reflection (Mark Altrogge)

© 1982 People of Destiny International

I want to serve the purpose of God In my generation

I want to serve the purpose of God While I am alive

I want to give my life For something that will last forever

Oh, l delight, I delight to do Your will

I want to build with silver and gold In my generation

I want to build with silver and gold While I am alive

I want to give my life For something that will last forever

Oh, l delight, I delight to do Your will

What is on Your heart? Show me what to do

Let me know Your will And I will follow You

What is on Your heart? Show me what to do

Let me know Your will And I will follow You

I want to see the kingdom of God In my generation

I want to see the kingdom of God While I am alive

I want to live my life For something that will last forever

Oh, I delight, I delight to do Your will

I want to see the Lord come again In my generation

I want to see the Lord come again While I am alive

I want to give my life For something that will last forever

Oh l delight, I delight to do Your will

More information

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 ministry@churchofscotland.org.uk for a Discernment Conversation with one of the Recruitment Team.