April 2022: A Time for Everything

Rev Ross Blackman

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 April, Rev Ross Blackman speaks about his role as minister of Hamilton Old Parish Church and member of the Ecumenical Relations Committee and we explore the theme: A time for everything.

My ministry: Rev Ross Blackman

Rev Ross Blackman was ordained and inducted into Hamilton Old Parish in 2015 and since then has also been part of the Ecumenical Relations Committee as well as holding roles within the former Presbytery of Hamilton. He is originally from the Isle of Lewis and married to Liz, who is the director of Drama Kirk, and they have two children.

What is your background?

My work and religious background is quite diverse – for the first thirty years of my life I was raised as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. I was encouraged to leave school as soon as I could and became a joiner and builder, working in the trades for over a decade. Then a recession hit so I went back to college to take a course in computing, consequently finding employment with the college. In the lead up to the year 2000, I took a job with the NHS managing a project rolling out new computers, which led me into project, policy, change, and then service management.

I studied for a degree in management science and took a role managing mental health and learning disability services for the whole of the Western Isles. A job at NHS The State Hospital, Carstairs followed, where I worked as a performance manager and completed my MBA. I ended up staying far longer than anticipated, five years, and it was whilst I was there that I succumbed to the call to ministry. I had been putting it off for 10 years but it wasn't wasted time. I don't think God wastes anything – God uses our experiences and we eventually succumb to God's lead.

What is your current role?

I am the minister of Hamilton Old Parish and have thoroughly enjoyed serving as convener to the Mission Committee and then Business Committee of the presbytery and also part of the transition group involved with the creation of the new presbytery that Hamilton has formed with Lanark and (soon) Falkirk. It was handy that I knew a lot of the people involved from when I was working and training in Lanarkshire. At a national level I'm involved with the Ecumenical Relations Committee and am the nominee to become the next convener.

In 2016 we started and hosted a theatre group based in Hamilton to help bring the gospel to life through drama. My training as a joiner came into use building the sets and my IT skills in dealing with the technology. My wife Liz had trained as an actor and had a good handle on production and directing. We renamed this Fresh Expression of Church ‘Drama Kirk' and successfully bid for Go For It funding, which was an immense help in further establishing it and helping it to grow before and during the pandemic.

When did you start to feel a calling?

My views began to change when I came to faith in Christ reading the Bible in my living room and I suddenly had this awareness that Christ was far more than I'd been taught – for Jehovah's Witnesses, although Christ is accepted as the son of God, he's portrayed as a created angel so you wouldn't worship or pray to him. I had been an Elder (lay Minister) for the Jehovah's Witnesses for several years on the Island of Lewis. About six months after recognising Christ for who he is, I'd preached my last service, walked out and straight into the Free Church. During that first year I was insatiable for reading scripture and enjoying Christian company, not least because the free enquiry within discussion was quite different to the dogma that I was used to.

In the Summer of 2002, on a business trip down to the Isle of Barra, I was invited to dinner at the Church of Scotland manse. You couldn't make it up, but around the table was myself as an ex-Jehovah's Witness along with a Church of Scotland minister, a Free Church minister and a Canadian Evangelist. Unbeknown to the others, my reading that day was Ezekiel 3, about ministry. The Free Church minister said across the dinner table ‘Ross, I think you'll be a minister'. I was stunned! I'd been out of the Jehovah's Witnesses for less than a year and I was feeling a bit theologically ignorant. Respecting church and tradition I hadn't a clue. I embarked on getting an education and learning about churches – visiting a wide variety including Baptists, Church of Scotland, Free Church, Methodists, Roman Catholic and charismatic groups. However, I continued to be most attracted to the Reformed tradition and was soon engaged in lay preaching and supporting ecumenical youth groups.

In 2007 I moved to Carluke to work in Carstairs. I went round all the churches and denominations, finding three good Church of Scotland congregations, settling in Kirkton Parish Church with Rev Iain Cunningham. We sought permission from Lanark Presbytery for me do some lay preaching even though I wasn't a Reader. I started a theology degree with Highland Theological college and attended an Enquirer's Conference. The presentation of so many different types of ministry had me a bit shell-shocked but I was quite certain it was the Ministry of Word and Sacrament that I was called to. I would eventually attend a Selection Conference in 2012, exactly 10 years after feeling the first strains of a call to Ministry.

I got offered voluntary redundancy just before I started my full-time placement with the University of Glasgow, which made the difference for me being able to afford to go through training. Support of trainees is something I feel strongly about as without the redundancy money we couldn't have got through it. I also found that the training is, understandably, very focused on the ministerial candidate, but the need to support spouses is also something I feel strongly about. The spouse and the family are often left in the background and there's no preparation for manse life, what ministry is going to do to your relationship, to your time, the devotion that's required. For me it's a bit of a hole in the curriculum.

Anything you've been surprised by?

My expectations going into Ministry were actually quite low because I carried with me that early reading in Ezekiel 3 which emphasised dependence on God and suggested to me that there was a good chance that people wouldn't be willing to listen to a word I had to say! Having gone in with that trajectory and low expectations of what I might accomplish, the fact that lots has happened has only been a delight. The biggest surprise is that I feel I've been permitted to get involved in so much in such a short period of time, which I truly didn't expect. It's been a real privilege.

The response to Drama Kirk has also been great. I remember one elder statesman in my Kirk Session being quite against it, but each night of the next Holy Week we portrayed parts of Christ's life using drama as a component of the service. He wrote to me afterwards to say it gave him a new facet to his faith and that he'd completely changed his mind, which was wonderful.

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.