June 2022: Rev Fred Vincent

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.

This month, Rev Fred Vincent talks about his work as Minister of Glenelg, Kintail and Lochalsh parish and provides a bible reading and reflection.

My ministry: Rev Fred Vincent, Minister of Glenelg, Kintail and Lochalsh parish in the presbytery of Lochcarron-Skye

This month marks one year since Rev Fred Vincent was inducted as the Minister of Glenelg, Kintail and Lochalsh parish in the presbytery of Lochcarron-Skye. This is the latest chapter in a career which has taken him from Belfast to the Highlands of Scotland. Now living in Inverinate, Kintail, with their dog, Lucy, and 21-year-old cat, Treacle, he and his wife Catherine have four grown-up sons living in Glasgow and London.

What is your background?

I grew up between Glencairn estate and the Shankill Road in west Belfast where my grandmother and aunt lived. My grandmother was a very faithful Christian. She and my aunt would have been the initial influence on my faith and through them attended Brethren, Pentecostal and Baptist churches, always with a backdrop of Presbyterianism too!

In my last couple of years at secondary school, I got involved with an inter-schools peace group which met at Corrymeela House in Belfast which belongs to the Christian ecumenical Corrymeela Community, which was actually founded before the Troubles, but is very much focussed on peace and reconciliation.

Corrymeela also has a residential centre in Ballycastle and our inter-schools peace group went up for a weekend. On the first night, we were invited to the regular informal worship that took place twice a day.

I went to it and as a part of the worship, we were asked to say The Lord's Prayer together. Somewhere between the beginning and the end of the Our Father, something clicked and I've probably spent the rest of my life trying to understand just what happened. It was such a profound experience at that age. While I had knowledge of the faith, whatever happened in that moment was really experiential and profoundly influential.

It was the first experience I could think of where I had been in a worship setting with people from a whole range of Christian traditions and with people from all over the world. I'm also conscious it didn't happen during a sermon, it was the experience of sharing the Lord's Prayer. I didn't go in expecting or looking for anything, but I suppose for me that was the starting point of committed faith.

What led you on your path to ministry?

I got involved with a church I had contact with through attending Boys Brigade. West Kirk was literally in the middle of the Shankill Road, and they had just started up a youth work project, which was quite innovative at the time, called The Centre Project. At that stage in my life and faith, it was phenomenal just to be a part of that and it was where I cut my teeth in church and mission.

I stayed in Belfast for college and went travelling around Europe one summer. I landed in Turin one night and heard music coming from a church, so I went in. It was a Waldensian Protestant congregation, but also there were a group from a travelling community called Christ Is The Answer. They would stay with a church for a month to focus on it and build it up and then move on. I got talking to them and ended up staying with them for the week. I remember one particular guy who'd had addiction issues, but just made a commitment to Christ and he told me how he had stopped without having to go cold turkey. It was a miracle of grace which led to him joining the group and staying with them.

When it came time to move on they asked me to join them.

At that time, I was beginning to look at making the choice between being a minister or social work. Very simplistically, for me at that time, it seemed social work was about trying to change the externals in the hope of changing the internal and ministry was about trying to change the internals so when something shifted, the externals changed as well. So I took the decision to finish my degree and didn't go back and join the group.

I finished my course, and after another couple years, including one working with church youth work agency in Belfast, I began my training for ministry. At that point I met my wife Catherine at Corrymeela and we both went to New College in September 1985.

What elements are important to you in your ministry?

There have been various strands which have always been important. One is the inter-church and ecumenical dimension, but also the external engagement with the world around us and the recognition that we have to create spaces people can feel comfortable coming to, whoever they are and whatever they are carrying.

After my training, Catherine and I went down to Waterford in southern Ireland to a combined Methodist-Presbyterian congregation. We were there for five years and then moved back north when I became whole time chaplain at the Northern Ireland Hospice in Belfast, which again had that ecumenical dimension serving all Church traditions, faiths and none.

Then I went to work for Corrymeela and was programme director for a few years before it went through a restructuring. While there I became particularly interested in management processes, especially strategic planning and fundraising; and completed Chartered Management training. After that, I did freelance consultancy for a while before completing a post-grad degree in Peace and Reconciliation Studies through the Irish School of Ecumenic/Trinity, Dublin and its Belfast base. My thesis was on the experience of clergy at the outbreak of violence in the late 1960s and trying to consider what a theology of reconciliation might look like.

I went on to work with a number of churches in community development roles which also gave me time to offer consultancy development support. This included writing the successful bid for over £1 million European peace funding that provided the means for the Irish Church Peace Project to be initiated. My various experiences opened up the space that allowed me to make an application for a Church of Scotland job as Chance to Thrive co-ordinator with the Priority Areas team.

What did working in Priority Areas bring to your own ministry?

One of the great things about working in Priority Areas was that we tried not to start with questions of need and it's a lesson I wish I'd learned 30 years ago. When I met with a group, I'd ask them to share three things that are brilliant about their congregation and three things that are brilliant about their community.

It's called Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) and starts with the good things that a community has rather than the challenging ones. Cormac Russell, one of the proponents of this way of working, speaks of beginning with ‘what's strong, not what's wrong'. We know the other stuff is there, but we can start by celebrating the good things instead of concentrating on the ‘needs' and headaches. That was a bit of a light bulb moment because it doesn't matter how deprived or not an area is considered to be, there is still treasure. We realise that there are challenges, yet within that context we are aware of the huge good things, huge gifts and huge measures of grace that people have in their lives, and the generosity there is in sharing these.

After working in mainly urban areas, what attracted you to Glenelg, Kintail and Lochalsh?

When considering a move towards parish ministry again, I looked at the Church of Scotland Vacancies List. Glenelg, Kintail and Lochalsh was on it and a very tentative initial contact was begun. Then, Catherine and I managed to get a couple of days away in a hotel near Glencoe. I happened to be browsing through some books in the lounge and pulled one out that contained old photographs of the Highlands, which happened to have been taken in the Glenelg, Kintail and Lochalsh area – sometimes you just can't make this stuff up!

I eventually submitted an application and after an interview with the Nominating Committee, I was invited to become Sole Nominee. The nudges were coming more and more. It seemed everyone in television was in the area doing something: Paul Murton, Joanna Lumley, Darcey Bussell and Sandi Toksvig! Then when it became public that I was Sole Nominee, connections with the area began to emerge. Particularly of note was when Rev Rhona Graham messaged me about her annual visits to the area. When I began work with the Priority Areas' team, Rhona was the first person I met from one of the Chance to Thrive congregations, so having this link seemed almost like being encouraged by a handover from one role and place to another.

One of the really interesting things about the congregation for me was that in the Nominating Committee there were people whose family had lived in the area for generations, but there were others who had moved in within the last few years. That indicated an openness and a willingness to create space and ask what gifts people have here and how do we make use of them.

What is your parish like and what challenges does it bring?

The parish consists of three small communities of worship and it's about 25 miles, door-to-door, from Lochalsh church to Glenelg with the manse in the middle at Kintail. The Kintail Church was sold a few years ago, but the owner still allows us to come in on a Sunday morning and use it for services.

The parish boundary, edge to edge, is probably about 40 miles, from Stromeferry and Plockton to Arnisdale and Carron. The roads can be an adventure of their own, and I think there are 24 Munros within the parish, which gives some indication of the terrain.

It's an adventure, it's a challenge and it's a bit of a test for me in terms of asking what I have which might help people get to where they want to be in the future. But a year in, I'm very glad to say they still smile at me when I turn up at the door!

It's a been a strange year, as it has been for everybody. Traditionally, as a minister, I would have been knocking on doors and visiting people from the start, but because of Covid restrictions, I wasn't able to do that. Similarly, we were not able to hold any meetings in our buildings apart from services, and even they were very restricted, but the congregation members have done a phenomenal job in keeping the churches going and as soon as they could, they opened the buildings again.

The people are lovely, and I am delighted they invited me to join them on their faith journey.

A total highlight was last Friday evening when they had a surprise party/ ceilidh for Catherine and me to celebrate our first year with them! How thoughtful was that!

What advice would you give to someone thinking of entering the ministry?

For me, absolutely explore with someone else where you sit with your vocation. When I met with my minister, way before I began training, his advice was: "Whatever your sense of call is, write it down or hold it in your head or deep in your heart because there are days when you need to go back to it and say: this is why I am here."

You have to find your passion and your gifts. Where are your strengths and how do you grow and still maintain that passion? And how in faith do we learn to live with the shadows at the times when we find ourselves in dark places? There is something about realising what it is that holds you to your ministry. For me that is particularly the situation at communion and being able to welcome people to His table, and also facilitating space for other people to bring their gifts, whatever their colour, class, race, creed and sexuality.

June resources for reflection

Bible reading and reflection

Psalm 121

I to the hills…

After my Nomination services in April 2021, Catherine and I were invited to stop at the top of the Mam Ratagan pass for a picnic before heading back to Glasgow. It was a stunning blue-sky day and spread out in front of us were the Five Sisters of Kintail in all their magnificence! There was a picnic table where we stopped. There was also a plaque with a pointer identifying the mountains we were looking towards. What struck me most about the plaque, however, wasn't just the helpful information about the mountains, but it also had a verse from Psalm 121 inscribed on it.

I took the obligatory photo of the stunning vista. The photo was taken not just because of the view but because of the reference to Psalm 121. I didn't mention anything about this as I wanted to keep it for another possible moment in the future.

There are times when I still don't quite believe the path we have found ourselves taking: from Glasgow to Glenelg, Kintail and Lochalsh. In terms of the Scottish government Urban: Rural eight category classification, we have moved from an area which is described as Category 1 (Large Urban Area) to an area which is Category 8 (Very Remote Rural), i.e. both ends of the spectrum! The thing is, apart from walking our dog, Lucy, around Pollok Park with its Highland cows, I have no rural experience. I was upfront about this in the interview with the Nominating Committee which (thankfully!) didn't see this a deal-breaker!

Sometimes God just seems to set something in motion and lets it move along to its own conclusion; and, sometimes, the best we can do is go along with it and find out where it takes us. I have to admit it also helps when there are nudges of the Spirit along the way; and nudges there were as mentioned previously!

When I took the picture, I kept it to use at another time should the occasion arise. That occasion did arise. It was the time of my first services after Induction into the parish as minister when I included it as one of the scripture readings.

But what is so important about Psalm 121? For me, it was such a nudge of the Spirit to find it that day because the first time I ever stepped into a pulpit to conduct a service of worship and preach the reading I used was Psalm 121. Hence, it has always been an important piece of scripture for me as it seems to have continually been there in places to encourage me along the way.

So, on my first Sunday with the Lochalsh and Glenelg congregations (Kintail unfortunately still being closed due to Covid 19 regulations) the occasion had arrived. I was able to share a story of these nudges of the Spirit which culminated in finding Psalm 121 at the top of Ratagan Pass. I was also able to share that when seeking to discern a way forward with God, there are a number of ways where that nudge can be found: circumstances, community and friends, and scripture. But even with all of these, for me it still needed the confirmation of the direction which could only be given by the congregations themselves. Perhaps that is another aspect of the community dimension. Hence, the reason for not sharing my find of Psalm 121 with anyone. The confirmation was provided by the congregational vote which led to me being offered an invitational Call to come to this amazing place to journey with the people as their minister.

Just to close the circle of connections, the book of photographs I came across at Glencoe was called The Land where I Belong, and was a compilation of photographs taken by Duncan Macpherson, and curated by Mary Carmichael. Duncan, a pharmacist in Kyle, lived across the road from the church and had been an elder here as well! Some things you couldn't make up!

Questions to reflect on

  • When did faith become real for me?
  • What does ministry actually mean, and look like, for me?
  • What is my ‘brilliance' and when does it get to shine?
  • What is my shadow side, and how do I live with it?
  • ‘Whatever your sense of call is, write it down, or if not write it down, hold it in your head or deep in your heart because there are days when you need to go back to it and say this is why I am here.' What is my sense of ‘call'?
  • What are my ‘nudges of the spirit'?
  • Who can I explore this with?
  • What affirmation/ confirmation am I looking for?

Prayer

Dear God
Thank you for the gift of grace you have shared with me.
Let my faith in you always be real.
Help me to fully realise the nature and task of ministry.
Continue to be present as I consider my sense of call to ministry.
I offer to you my gifts and strengths, I share with you my shadow side.
Grant me nudges of your spirit,
Those with whom I might speak openly about ministry, and my place within it, and
The affirmation/ confirmation I need to continue on my journey of faith

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.