Mission at St John’s Linlithgow
Andy and David were both called to serve: we meet up at their outreach centre, 183 High Street, Linlithgow. I ask them about different generations in mission. How was it then, how it is now?
“I am not the older one, am I?” David says in mock dismay. “You have three children”, fires back Andy, a youth worker in his 20s. “But they are only wee!” his Pastor replies. “Wee! One is 19!” says Andy – and they collapse in laughter.
We are sitting in what was once a shop, now filled with comfortable sofas and bright cushions, right in the middle of the community. Momentarily it seems that the older man is younger than the younger one. David, the Community Outreach Pastor at St John’s Church, is a big chap with a beard and an irresistible sense of humour. Andy, younger, very direct, very focused, with a busy diary.
Andy is a student at the Scottish School of Christian Mission, studying for a BA(Hons) in Theology (Youth and Community). He has just been invited to work in a full-time employed post with St John’s. He can often be found at Linlithgow Young People’s Project. LYPP is a busy, community-based inter-church youth project which involves working face-to-face with young people and developing outreach projects. On the other hand, David’s life journey has taken him to Bible college and out again; a period as a prison officer; then working with homeless people; returning to International Christian College to complete his degree 23 years after starting it and, finally, to become Community Outreach Pastor at St John’s.
I ask them about their calling. David responds,“It was not just one call. Every one of the changes in my career felt like a calling, yet in many ways the process felt more like progression. God moves you along as you fulfil the purposes he has for you. Every step of the way, I knew I was needed in the community and God wanted me to work there. The path I took has led me from being someone who was slightly naive to someone who was better equipped to serve”.
Andy goes on, “I too feel I have been rewarded with more as I have done more. I have a sense that discipline and obedience – to God’s plan for me – is important. I sometimes feel like David before he fights Goliath. Yet the steps laid out for me seemed so obvious and right, I have to obey.”
“I had an experience while I was working in York during my gap year. I was 17 at the time, and a woman I met there, Emma Stark, prophesied that I would become a leader of leaders and I must go back to the drawing board and think about what God wanted me to do. I remember her words: she said that, if I worked hard at this, I would have, ’A heart for this nation I never had before’.”
David interjects “How does that feel?” and Andy replies, “Quite frustrating sometimes. I have worked full-time then part-time to study theology. Sometimes I feel I have not progressed fast enough, but if I had not experienced this turning point, I do not know what I would have done”.
David reflects, “Progression and call are not exactly the same thing…” Andy says, “the more I have done, the more I have been rewarded.”
I ask about the practical purpose of study. David admits that sometimes, when he was younger, he felt study was not practical enough for him. “I enjoyed modules on church planting, probably because I was actively seeking out practical hands-on experience, but the real benefits of study came when I started to teach people. It brought a huge positive impact on my preaching. I think I understood scripture at a far deeper level and I was better equipped for pastoral ministry”.
Andy says, “I agree with David”. The serious young man brightens when he talks about feeling ‘liberated’ through study. “I and some of my fellow youth workers have moved into a flat in our community. At the same time I am studying how Jesus moved in his community. I have been thinking about Matthew 22”. Andy refers to verse 8: ‘Then he said to his servants, ‘the wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find’. Andy continues, “This shows how inclusive God is and that is how I must be, too.” David remarks with a smile that since the Holy Trinity is itself community and that we are drawn into that community by the love of God, so Andy living in community is a metaphor or allegory of the same. David says, “Personal faith goes out of the window in this light. The call to being a Christian is a call to the community of God”.
By this time I have given up on finding any generational gulf between them. If anything, they are, though years apart in terms of life experience, walking side by side on the same path. I ask them, what are the greatest challenges you face now?
David says, “Steering the church the way God wants it to go. Bringing the Kingdom, making disciples. Being in the community, not trying to force talking about Jesus into every situation, but trying to help them get more out of their time on earth. Keeping hope, and faith, strong.”
Andy responds, “Changing the culture of young people here in Linlithgow to be inclusive and welcoming. Christians can be a clique and the church in Scotland needs radical change. We need to revitalise the church while still caring for it”.
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