Minister without charge
In June 2015, I felt called to pursue a new role in the Church of Scotland - that of Coordinator of a Pilot Project from the Panel on Review and Reform - Path of Renewal.
I saw, in the description of the Pilot, an opportunity to mentor other ministers and congregations in discerning opportunities and making room for mission in their parishes and communities- something I longed to do where I was then but simply didn't have the capacity to prioritise in a parish of 11,000 with 5 school chaplaincies and 90 funerals a year, where promised, presbytery planned, ministerial assistance didn't ever materialise in my 7 years in the charge.
Path of Renewal offers not another programme for Renewal but participation in a movement, creating space to discern and act on the leading of the Spirit to places in our communities where God is already at work.
Confirmation of the call came when I was offered the post, after interview and, a few hours later, as I conducted one of the local Primary School's end of term service, I knew that, by the time staff and pupils returned after the summer holiday, I would no longer be their school chaplain.
And so began a journey, through demission, into the strange territory of a minister without charge.
Reactions from colleagues were many and varied but mostly, disbelief that I would demit my charge and leave parish ministry.
Reactions from the congregation were mainly expressions of hurt or declarations that they "knew I was destined for higher things" and no reassurance on my part seemed to convince folk that ministering with them was one of those "higher things" but that God had now called me elsewhere.
Demission involves leaving church, leaving home, leaving community - all, on their own, painful experiences.
Although we found a new place to worship, a place of welcome and nurture, it was a full six months before I could manage through the service without tears.
I simply missed the community of which I'd been a part and grieved that loss.
And, after six months grieving, I realised that I was also grieving a loss of status.
Who was I if I was no longer a parish minister? (Ironically, I had been ordained into Hospital Chaplaincy some 20 years before.)
15 years a Parish minister had subsumed my identity.
And then, at Easter, change began.
Archbishop Justin Welby, speaking into the revelations about his paternity, asserted: " My identity does not come from genetics. My identity is in Christ"
Hearing this was a turning point for me.
Post Easter, with these words speaking powerfully into my life, and pondering the post resurrection Jesus feeding his disciples on the beach, I began to emerge from grief to reconsider my identity in Christ.
It ceased to rankle quite as much when consigned to the bottom of a sign in sheet in Presbytery as a minister without charge - or when colleagues were dismissive of me as "a 121 person now". (Staffing the Institutional body)
Although, thankfully, I loved the new tasks in which I'd been involved, the training, the teaching, the mentoring, the travelling, I now felt able to embrace those in the new security of my status as a beloved child of God.
I thank God for conferring that status and for calling me to fulfil a new role in kingdom building.
But, as I moved out of parish ministry, I had no idea how long it would take to get the parish out of me - or how painful that journey would be. I have much more empathy with the Israelites in the wilderness!
The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
One thing is for sure - Demission is not for wimps!