I have probably said it a hundred times and will possibly say it a few hundred times more: “I love being a parish minister”.
Perhaps the main reason that I love being a parish minister is that this incredibly privileged position means our focus is already beyond the walls of our church, beyond the care of those in the congregation. This means I am a de facto missionary sharing and proclaiming the reign of God in this place, and on all the earth. By the same token, we are a congregation of missionaries sharing God’s love with the parish entrusted to us.
We do this through sharing our lives with our neighbours. We also do so financially. From time to time I hear people saying, “We ought to support missionaries financially” and as a congregation of the Church of Scotland, we consistently do so.
Each year, as a congregation we contribute to the Mission and Ministry (M & M) Fund of the Church of Scotland, from which money is drawn to pay stipends to ministers not only in Scotland, but throughout the world. In addition to paying stipends and overheads, somewhere in the region of 14% of what congregations contribute to the M & M Fund is used directly for worldwide mission work. Through your contributions, we contribute and are part of the wider work of the church.
To be fair, Liberton Northfield’s contribution to the M & M fund is lower than what we draw from the fund, and so in reality we are being subsidised by other congregations who invest in us as the church’s missionaries to this parish.
Apart from supporting other people in mission, we are missionaries ourselves. As a parish church, we are entrusted with fulfilling the Mission of God to the people in our parish, and the broad Church of Scotland stands with us and give us support and resources to achieve that mission. We are not just here to get people to sign up to go to heaven when they die. We are called by God to help to bring heaven to earth in this life.
As a parish minister, I feel humbled by the opportunity to engage with the breadth of religious belief in the parish. We are a broad church. The majority of funerals I conduct are to families with no fixed connection to Christianity or the church. In the sombreness of a family’s living room, we share the weight of grief together. As a parish minister I am also available to minister and support people of other faiths, without trying to proselytise them.
There are everyday things we can do to share God’s love and make people’s lives a little easier. Every once in a while I get to put my neighbours’ wheelie bin away. It may seem silly, but I want them to see that they are loved by us as ambassadors for God to the world.
What I find beautifully fulfilling about being a parish minister is that I have the opportunity to join in worship with Christians from a very broad range of traditions. We do not exclude folk who have Christian beliefs different to our own personal beliefs. We have space for conservative Christians, but we do not define ourselves as conservative. We have space for liberal Christians, but we do not restrict ourselves to being liberal. We embrace people from Free Church, Baptist, Congregational, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Pentecostal, Charismatic and a range of other Christian traditions, and are richly blessed by that diversity.
As a broad, national church, we have an obligation to foster opportunities for all these voices to be heard and respected. Rather than trying to drown out all the voices that don’t sound like our voice, we are to adjust our voices so that other voices may be heard. Our maturity as a national church is possibly most noticeable in our ability not only to tolerate those with whom we differ, but to deliberately honour and love each other.
Thank you for being a vital part of this amazing church.