July: Where the Spirit Leads

Rev Dr Karen Fenwick sitting on the church stairs with her dog

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 July, Rev Dr Karen Fenwick speaks about her role as the full-time minister of Word and Sacrament at Lowson Memorial Church Forfar, and we explore the theme: Where the Spririt Leads.

My ministry: Rev Dr Karen Fenwick, minister of Word and Sacramet at Lowson Memorial Church Forfar.

Rev Dr Karen Fenwick is married to Graham, and has a son Jonathan, as well as a black Labrador called Mitzi.

What is your current role?

I'm a full-time minister of Word and Sacrament at Lowson Memorial Church Forfar, a semi-rural parish. I was inducted and ordained here on 1 November 2006.

What did you do before being called to ministry?

I was a research scientist – it was science that I was passionate about. Latterly I worked on viruses.

The first call that I felt was not long after I finished my undergraduate science degree. It was a hard one because in my day you didn't get a student loan, just a grant to pay your fees and that was it and you couldn't go back down that path again. My minister at that time at my church, Auchterarder Parish Church, Andrew Bradley, was very encouraging. He asked me to take a very informal family service in the summer and after that he had a discussion with me where he said "I think you're maybe going down the wrong route for your vocation" and at that young age I couldn't see how I could do it financially and so I left it at "if that's what God is calling me to do he's going to have to open the doors".

Twenty years later, the doors all opened. More than that, though, it was almost as though God wanted me to want it enough. It was at a stage where I was discontent at everything and I was calling out to God to open the doors. By that time, I was a wife and a mum – a very different person than what I'd been in my twenties with that maturity behind me.

How did you act on your call?

Having felt that call I became the wearer of every hat, by which I mean I volunteered to do things. I was a worship leader, I was a house group leader, I was a church secretary and it was just to get experience at doing everything so that when the time came and God was leading me to do full-time ministry of some sort I had that little bit of experience behind me.

What would be your advice to someone who thinks they may have a calling to be a minister?

Follow the calling. The Bible talks of Gideon wanting a guarantee from God that he would win a victory and so he puts a fleece garment on the ground and asks God to make the morning dew fall only on the fleece and nowhere else. I did it in so many different ways that God answered, but not quite in the way I expected so I'd do it again. It's so hard to know, is this God I'm hearing or something I'm imagining? I would say test it – go for it, step out into the unknown.

What does a normal day look like for you?

At the moment it can include going out with food parcels because we run a big food project here at the church and I take my turn on the rota. My husband and I got the project started and there's now a whole team. It has been incredibly busy in lockdown. Yesterday I was down at the local primary school. I also had a discussion with a colleague about presbytery planning in the afternoon. Then I met a family to discuss a funeral I'm taking later this week. In the evening I had a presbytery meeting on Zoom. That's a normal day – very varied.

Other days I can be doing something at the church. We had started a free breakfast club for children before lockdown, which we love to run all year but especially during the summer holidays so this year, we're getting marquees and we're going to do it outside. So, over the summer the first part of my day will be out there helping to serve breakfast and I'll love that. It's a priority for us to be connected to the local community. We can't hide in the walls of the church, that's not what we were called to do either as ministers or as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. It has to be about being part of the community and working alongside the other people doing great things out there too.

What have been your highlights in your time as a minister

There are so many – from getting our local primary school on STV news when it was the Queen's Jubilee. The children were so excited about it. Then having a centenary service and being able to have a whole year where we focussed on marking it in different ways. During lockdown the response we've had from local supermarkets, local food outlets, restaurants that have helped because our demand for food parcels went from about 40 a week to over 250. That was overwhelming. At a time nationally when we were at a bit of a low, it turned into a high just to see God's love at work and people responding to that need. It was lovely to be part of it.

What are the more challenging aspects of being a minister?

I would say hand on heart my biggest low was supporting a friend, a member, someone who had been in Christian service full time, when her child committed suicide. In this situation there are no words – there is nothing you can say. I was watching her slowly losing her faith. When you're on your knees crying out to God in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ ‘I will not lose even one of those you have given me', and saying ‘how can I feed your sheep at this time'? I've got a son and I felt helpless and worthless. Just allowing God to lead us both along on that journey. It was so tough when you just felt there was nothing you could draw on and knowing you would feel exactly the same in that situation.

How has it been being a minister in lockdown?

It has been very challenging – good and bad. The first lockdown brought out a lot of innovation, it was different, it was challenging. The 23 March (the UK's first lockdown) saw the launch of our services going onto our YouTube channel. We had two services a week, I would get puppets out, I would do all kinds of things. Phoning people, sending out emails, waving to people in the street. The second lockdown has been a drag and we've all been longing to get back together again. There was spontaneous applause from the congregation the first time we were allowed to sing with masks on. There is now that hope that we're gradually getting little bits back and we're keeping the online presence because we totally understand that some folks are not ready to be back in a crowd yet but I'm now full of excitement and hope for the future and that's good as well.

July Discernment Resources: Where the Spirit Leads

What is God saying?

God calls every believer to a life of service and gives each of us gifts and talents so we can serve. Sometimes we know exactly what it is we are to do. That can be great news, but not if we'd rather do something different.

Sometimes we struggle to work out what our calling is. We're not sure what God wants.

Sometimes God's signals are contradictory. One day we think it's one thing, the next another.

God guides us by the Holy Spirit. One of the pictures Scripture uses to describe the Holy Spirit is wind.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Acts 2:1-4

Sometimes the wind is strong, unmistakeable and inescapable. Sometimes the wind is gentle, subtle and unobtrusive. Sometimes the wind changes direction, swinging round from the east to the west. Whether it's a gale or a breeze, and no matter the direction it comes from the wind is intangible, uncontrollable and irresistible. So it is with the Spirit of God. We cannot contain the Holy Spirit. We cannot bend the Spirit to our will. The Spirit will not be co-opted to our agenda. Where the Spirit leads we must follow.

Such a simple idea … until we try to put it into practice.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
O still small voice of calm!

John Greenleaf Whittier

What do I do if the wind is blowing strongly in a direction and it's not the one I want to go in? What do I do if I sense God is calling me along a path that will throw all my well-laid plans into confusion?

What do I do if the breeze is very gentle and I can't work out which direction it is coming from? What do I do if I can't work out what God is calling me to?

What do I do if the wind keeps changing direction, one day from the east, the next from the west? What do I do when I get strong prompts from God but they are not consistent?

To contemplate/discuss

God's people often find discernment to be frustratingly intangible, just like the wind. Perhaps these questions may help you.

If you don't want to go in the direction you are being pointed towards …

Why is it that I am resisting the direction God seems to be blowing in? Who might I talk to about this to help me work out if this is genuinely the Spirit's leading?

If you can't work out where the wind is coming from …

How might I create a pool of quiet, or a pattern of stillness so I can listen for the Spirit's gentle prompts? How might I reduce the volume of background noise in my life so I can hear the ‘still small voice of calm'?

If you are pulled in different directions …

In what direction is the prevailing wind blowing? Keep a record over a period of time: what is the persistent thing I'm aware of God saying to me?

Prayer

Holy Spirit, wind of God, show me the way to go.
Holy Spirit, breeze of God, give me courage to follow.
Holy Spirit, breathe of God, calm my anxious heart.
Holy Spirit, life of God, enable me to serve you. Amen.

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.