Today marks the fifteenth ‘anniversary ‘ of my ordination as a minister of Word and Sacrament. In some ways my recollections of this are as clear to me now as yesterday , in some ways even clearer than yesterday. Some things are forever imprinted on the mind, and do not seem to fade with the years and the day of my ordination was certainly one of them. I was ordained and inducted to my first charge of Cross Ness church of Scotland on 13th April 2001 as a newly married minister . Alison and I having being married the month previously.
The days preceding the induction had been a whirlwind of activity as any minister and/or wife will affirm. We had only moved into the manse the previous week , and had been completely preoccupied with the move and our new surroundings rather than the impending induction service . The service was ably led by the moderator of Lewis Presbytery mr Billy Forsyth who was incidentally the first lay moderator ( non minister ) the Presbytery had had. Also taking part were Rev Tom Sinclair the Presbytery clerk ( whose birthday it was that day I seem to remember ), Rev Dr Angus Morrison the then minister at St Columba’s Stornoway who preached ably from Joshua 1:9 ” Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Rev Donald Macaulay, like myself a Bernera man!, led the Presbytery in the laying on of hands and led the prayer of ordination, the vows were put to me very solemnly by Mr Forsyth, and my father in law Rev Alexander Macdonald gave the customary ‘charges ‘ to the new minister and the Congregation. The church was packed to overflowing , and by the time I had met the congregation at the door I felt I had shaken hands with everyone in Ness. I hadn’t not by a long way! The induction social was held in Lionel school Ness and was ably chaired by the Rev AWF Coghill the former interim moderator. speeches were made by among others the Revs John Murdo Nicolson, Willie Black, Tommy Macneil, Willie Macleod and Mr Christopher Martin .
The next day April 14th 2001 I wrote in my diary “Now what do I do ?” I wrote exactly the same words in my diary on 4th July 2015 after the induction to Tarbert . This is I suppose an acknowledgment that despite the passage of time little has changed and I am as dependant upon the grace and help of God as I was then. Truly as many have said before me “Who is sufficient for these things?” ( 2 Cor 2:16)
As I reflect on these days now I can only marvel at the goodness and grace of the God who has been the constant in all these times. In looking back on this time I feel I know less now than I ever did. I cannot say that I feel more accomplished or adequate for the task of ministry or any other task, but needing to trust in God all the more.
Throughout these years God has been gracious, faithful and unstinting in his provision and support. Whenever we are tempted to doubt or question He is there. He is consistent when I am wayward, He has the answer when I have none. In recognition of this fact , I seek with my first post to dedicate this blog to Him , and pray that he may use it to His glory.
One of the biggest disappointments for me was the disintegration of the hopes and dreams I and many others had of a new generation of ministers rising from within the islands. The hope was that a new generation of ministers largely trained at the same time in Aberdeen University would lead congregations of the Church of Scotland through not only the Highlands and Islands but further afield too. For a variety of reasons , and certainly not the often stated ones of recent times this didn’t happen. This and many other disappointments have punctuated the past fifteen years . These things should not obscure the fact however that God has greatly blessed these years. Despite my limitations God has always been faithful and has slowly and imperceptibly built His kingdom in Ness and is beginning to do so also in Tarbert too . It is only on reflection that one can sometimes see God’s hand in providence, as the unseen guide and stay through dark seasons . The oft quoted verse from 1 Samuel 7:12 “Hitherto hath the Lord has helped us.” is always apt for the Christian in reflecting on past times. It is in such times or perhaps maybe after such times we can see God’s leading provision and protection.
But what of the future ? Well the future prospects have seldom seemed so bleak . Our islands and in particular the lovely Isle of Harris are beset by major challenges that cannot be ignored. We are beset by problems of depopulation, perhaps more starkly here than in any other part of the islands. The economy is flat and employment opportunities meagre at best. There are many many other challenges too, but I have never been more confident in the fact that God is in control. Through every storm and set back God is able to show His will and purpose , and bring blessing from the most discouraging of circumstances. The story of Abraham and Sarah is just one of many examples from scripture of God showing us that nothing is too hard for him. The question is asked ‘ Is anything too hard for the Lord?’ (Genesis 18:14 ESV). Well we know the answer ! Our God is still able, and willing to pour out His Spirit upon on all flesh as He promised ( Joel 2:28-29) .
Last year, and with my departure from Ness imminent, my attention was drawn by two of the most godly people I know to the late Rev Murdoch Campbell’s famous little book ‘ Gleanings of Highland Harvest ‘. In this famous book which is regarded as a spiritual classic in the highlands and islands , an indicator is given by way of a prophetic dream which Mr Campbell relates that the year 2016 will be a time of great revival blessing.
Murdoch Campbell relates the dream of a godly man who in a vision saw a dream that he believed was from the Lord . Ninety years ago in 1926 he dreamt that he saw a tree studded in gold lettering, and on which were inscribed seven historical and prophetic dates. The dates indicated periods of time between 1560 and 2016. The seven periods coincided with the condition of the tree at the time. In 1560 (The year of the Reformation in Scotland) the tree was healthy and flourishing, but by 1660 ( The rise of persecution against the church and eventually what became known as ‘the killing times’) it had begun to decay. By 1940 ( world war 2 / Battle of Britain ) it had almost withered. But by 1960 ( after the Billy Graham crusades and at the height of the tell Scotland campaign ) the tree was beginning to revive rapidly till in 2016 it had flourished into a noble tree, fresh, strong, and lovely beyond any tree he had ever seen.
We don’t know the future, or what the future holds for us, but God does and all things are possible with Him.