Moderator reflects on the people who nurtured his call to ministry

It was June 1978 and I was on holiday in Ness, in the North of the Island of Lewis – a place we always referred to as our second home. I knew that my life was at a crossroads and I was seriously considering applying to university to study with a view to eventually working in social work.

Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields at Ness beach

As was the church practice in Ness, the church had a “mid-week” service on a Thursday evening in what was called Lional Mission Church, part of Cross Ness Church of Scotland. By this time I had been a Christian for two years.

I walked in, sat down, like a good Presbyterian, at the back of the church and Rev John Ferguson led the worship. When it came to the “sermon”, John said, “Iain is with us from Glasgow. He will bring us a word.”

Totally unprepared, but focussing on what I had been reading from Ephesians in the morning, I got up and “gave my word” – all 20 minutes of it.

Afterwards John Ferguson strongly encouraged me to apply for the ministry in the Church of Scotland, beginning my journey to a call that was to lead to me being accepted as a candidate and starting studies at Glasgow University in 1979.

Part of my roots – my mother’s home – are in Ness. So too is my call to ministry and the place a few months later where I was to meet Linda, my wife. Coincidences? I don’t believe in them.

But this is only part of the story. Curiously, I am writing this reflection on an island while thinking of John Donne, who rightly said that no man is an island. Everything leading up to that moment of call was about people. Here in Ness the kindness, love and prayers of ordinary people encouraged me. Is there such a thing as an “ordinary” person? – maybe not. And the skills of doctors who helped me heal from a serious accident along with the wisdom of many other people have helped form me as a person.

Since that moment of call, my life has been the story of an infinitely patient God. It has too been the story of people who have formed and reformed my life: Linda, friends and the people of God whom I have been privileged to serve. People “in the pews” have encouraged, inspired, prayed for me. For we are not “islands” but part of a living body, joined together in faith with a common hope and purpose.

The older I get, the more I see those “connections” and they are always about people – both within and outwith the Church—who have consciously or otherwise assisted me on this journey so far.

On reflection, I think that we do not, in today’s church, have the confidence to see and know that God desires to use us to help transform lives. Getting alongside people, supporting, encouraging, nourishing and even challenging people to do more than they might have thought possible is our ministry with and to others. We can do it if we believe enough to not accept second best for either ourselves or other people.

God has changed my life! Without doubt this has most often happened through the influence of other people. My aspiration has always been and still is to inspire the people of God to share their story of faith, through word and action. Now, I know we can never do this perfectly, but we can do it intentionally, prayerfully and consistently, and leave the rest to God.

Christian Aid launches emergency East Africa hunger appeal

Church of Scotland partner organisation Christian Aid has launched an emergency appeal to help people in East Africa survive a growing hunger crisis.

Amid a hunger crisis in East Africa Adoko Hatoro Engang sits in front of a tent, his temporary home.  Drought and flash floods have forced him to leave his village with his family
Adoko Hatoro Engang sits in front of a tent, his temporary home. Drought and flash floods have forced him to leave his village with his family.

After the worst drought in 40 years, vulnerable people are now facing the threat of famine and dying. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 18.4m people across Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are missing meals.

Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, is urging everyone to contribute to Christian Aid’s emergency appeal for East Africa.

“The Ukraine conflict is affecting food supplies for people across the globe and it is the most vulnerable who will suffer the most,” he said.

“Christian Aid’s appeal will help people in East Africa whose situation is already precarious due to the effects of climate change, and who are already threatened with famine.

“Working with local partners to deliver food, Christian Aid can help prevent the worst effects of food insecurity.

“Please give generously knowing that your gift will save lives and prevent suffering.

“In addition, we all should urge our political representatives to restore the international aid budget to the 0.7% target as a matter of humanitarian urgency.”

Working through local partners, Christian Aid is already responding in Ethiopia and Kenya. The charity is helping over 300,000 people by repairing wells, handing out water purification kits, providing cash support and trucking water to drought affected communities as well as distributing fodder and medicine to keep valuable livestock alive.

Yitna Tekaligne, Country Director for Christian Aid Ethiopia, warns that “millions are taking desperate measures to survive in the face of failed harvests, livestock deaths, water shortages and extreme hunger.”

He added: “The severe conditions are being made worse by the climate crisis, Covid, and now Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused global food prices to rocket. A tough situation has now turned into a dire crisis. To help us respond, please donate what you can. Acting now is also about hope – a hope you can create with a donation today.”

One of the many people Christian Aid is supporting is Adoko Hatoro Engang. He is 76 and living in an internally displaced person camp in South Omo with his family. Recurrent drought and flash flooding has destroyed his farmland and depleted his livestock. This is causing hunger for his family.

“I remember when I was young, the rains would follow the drought season, and flooding devastated everything,” Adoko Hatoro Engang explains. He adds: “If I am able, I eat once a day. We only share very small amounts of food we cook, using the money Christian Aid gave us.”

Sally Foster-Fulton, Head of Christian Aid Scotland, said:

“It is morally indefensible that our global neighbours, people like Adoko, are struggling to eat. Children and women are impacted the most by the hunger crisis and many children are showing signs of malnourishment.

“The Scottish Government has just awarded Christian Aid funding from its Humanitarian Emergency Fund to help vulnerable families in southern Ethiopia, providing cash for food essentials and supporting those who urgently need access to essential health services. With your generous support we can do much more.”

Christian Aid tells us that:

  • a £15 donation could provide seeds and farming tools for one household,
  • £30 will buy water hygiene kits to provide clean drinking water for six families, and
  • £50 will supply food for a household of five.

Donate to the Christian Aid East Africa Appeal