Happy October!! And welcome to the Ordiversary Party! I was ordained on Reformation Sunday (the last in October, which was the 29th that year, 12 years ago)…and this month kicking off the party is my ordiversary twin, Nikki Macdonald! She is the minister in the Upper Clyde parish, in the south of Scotland, in an area considered “remote rural.” She was ordained in the Church of Scotland on October 29, 2014. It was a day of joy and celebration across land and sea…and I think you’ll soon understand why I chose not to edit a single word of her interview for this party! So sit back, crack open a can of root beer (Nikki’s fave), and let’s get this party started!
Tell us about your journey into ministry.
‘Sad lady’ statues and holy water, a cool cavernous building, a light blue string of wool circling my 4 year old pinkie: a mix of mystery and mundane, longing and belonging. For this relatively non-church Australian child, faith seeds were planted by Catholic great-aunts and aunts, and a Methodist baby-sitter who occasionally took me to Sunday School picnics with other small wool-pinkied children. At 6, moving inter-state moved me away from church, but a sense of ‘other’ always remained. I stumbled into the faith and the church community at 18, through Scottish Country Dancing. A Deaconess who also cheerfully ‘Stripped the Willow’ took pity on the poor teenager who had to take two buses to get home. She lived in the same area and offered me lifts home. In exchange, I asked her how she could collude with the Patriarchy by working for such a misogynistic institution, and, wasn’t religion really just the opiate of the masses anyway? Great conversations with incredibly gracious responses followed until I finally took her up on the invitation to ‘come and see.’ What I saw was a woman up front, conducting worship: it blew my tiny mind. What I experienced was a sense of community and an indefinable something: whatever these folk had, I wanted.
Twenty odd years, a variety of experiences within different denominations, and a different hemisphere later, God finally pinned me down. Down through the years, the question consistently asked of me was ‘have you thought about ordination?’ In order to bat it out of the park one last time, I attended a Church of Scotland Enquirer’s Conference in my last year of doing a Divinity degree ‘for fun’. Over the course of two days, we were all shown various forms of ministry within the Kirk. I grew steadily more miserable. The thought in my head was so loud, I was surprised no one else could hear it: ‘for goodness sake, you’ve been faffing around on this for years, just make a decision.’ In my mind, I tried to walk away once more, but couldn’t. I signed the form to do an Enquiry placement, and it was as if a great huge thing lifted from my back. The 6 month placement was a daily affirmation of the decision made: tt was joyful, it was hard, and it was right. I was sent to the National Assessment Conference, had a great time, and was surprised to receive the acceptance letter a couple of days later. I’d just been accepted to do a Research Masters. It meant my training didn’t quite run alongside other Ministry candidates, this was compounded when I unexpectedly received funding for further study.
Somehow Ministries Council coped with my not quite fitting in ‘the training box’, and I enjoyed both the placements and the various conferences. A wee pause to finish and defend my thesis, and then it was off to a wonderful probation placement. Sure there were little bits of training that niggled here and there, but it was all a useful learning curve. After a great time in a town parish, with a wonderful supervisor and congregation, I was set free to look for a charge. My deal with God was that I was happy to go anywhere in Scotland as long as it was on the coast – not a bad deal, given the great coastline. Strangely, God had other ideas. An odd wee parish profile from the rural wilds, kept coming back up to the top of the pile. ‘Ridiculous,’ I thought, ‘9 villages, 180sq miles, more sheep than people? Nah, you’re not calling me there, are you, Lord?’
It turned out that the answer to the question was ‘Yes.’
And what a journey it’s been.
What’s something you remember from your ordination?
Delighted surprise at how many folk from various parts of my life travelled to a very out of the way rural parish, to stand there with me. Also the lovely sense of hope and optimism in the air.
What are some surprising joys you have found in rural ministry?
It’s primarily a sheep farming area here, so: lambing time! A time of year when my farmers are so hard-pushed that I end up travelling through glorious countryside, along many a single lane track, to visit with them. I’ve learnt how not to get in the way, have fed wee orphan lambs, talked of the weather and the infinite over a cuppa in the sheep shed, and gained a deeper understanding of some of the parables about sheep, and sons who want to sell the land and leave home. Joy is also found in my chaplain’s role at the 5 teeny rural schools scattered about the parish. We’ve a joint Harvest project in process at the moment, supporting the work of Send a Cow – a UK charity set up by farmers to help farmers in several countries in Africa. I have become chief goat-wrangler, as the students from the schools make a variety of goats as decorations for the upcoming Harvest Thanksgiving service. As a community, it’s been a very hard 15 months, with some particularly hard deaths, chronic illness, and folk leaving the area. As we’ve walked in the valley of the shadows awhile, I continue to be in awe of how resilient my folk are and of their quiet, unassuming faith; while it’s been hard, they know that they are not forsaken. That brings me quite a profound joy.
How do you find and practice good self care when you live in an isolated/rural community?
As a single person, it’s too easy just to keep working, so I’ve developed a couple of wee strategies to ensure that I take proper time off and do so without guilt. One is dividing the day up into morning, afternoon, and evening slots, and aiming to work only two of the three when it’s possible. Sometimes it’s not as neat as that, but it does help me keep an eye on work / rest ratio.
Building up some nice, mutually supportive relationships with several colleagues in the presbytery – we try to make space occasionally to have lunch/ coffee and a chat to touch base with each other.
Getting out of the parish either physically or mentally. I have a flat just outside of Edinburgh, and try to get up there on a regular basis and catch up with friends, or do research for a project I’m working on. Playing music badly, writing, and making stained glass gets my brain ‘out’ of the parish and into a different space altogether.
What advice would you give to people being ordained this month?
I was ordained on the 29th of October, ‘preached in’ by a mentor on the 2nd of November, and conducted worship on Remembrance Sunday. Immediately following the Remembrance service at church and still cassocked, I leapt into my small but trusty car, sped up to Scotland’s second highest village, conducted an Act of Remembrance there, jumped back into the car, headed down the hills to another of the 9 villages in the parish, and did the same again. Advice: if you can wait, January is an awesome time to begin your ministry in a parish…! [This is probably aimed at those in a more UK context]
Teri Peterson is a Church of Scotland minister, though she was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) on Reformation Sunday, 2006. October is the best month because it has her birthday and ordiversary, and the worst month because it’s the anniversary of her mom’s death, and somehow all of that mixes together into this thing called life, which is definitely worth celebrating! You can find Teri at her blog (sometimes), CleverTitleHere, and in her book, Who’s Got Time: Spirituality for a Busy Generation, and as a contributor to the RevGals book There’s A Woman in the Pulpit.
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