Phil: the lessons I’ve learned
On Sunday we say farewell to Phil Gunn, who has been with us over the last 15 months as Probationary Minister. But don’t worry – he’s not going far – he is soon to be ordained as minister of Roskeen Parish Church. You can read about Phil’s earlier experiences here, and about his and the Gunn family’s time with us here.
What lessons does Phil take away from his time at Hilton?
I was curious about how time as a probationary minister helps to inform and shape the candidate for ministry, and so I asked Phil about what he’d learned during his time at Hilton. Here are some of the things he mentioned.
Phil found it helpful to learn about the activities and groups which meet at Hilton – he mentioned especially ‘Rhymes Recollected’ and ‘Sounds Familiar’ – wondering ‘Could I use that in the parish I end up in?’
But he has also learned that the minister’s role is not to manage activities at a church top-down. Rather, it’s a question of ‘finding out what people are passionate about’, what God is calling particular people to do, and then enabling them to fulfil that call. This involves giving people permission, giving them freedom to try things, and ‘if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, It’s OK, it’s not a failure, we’ve just learned that that thing doesn’t work.’ ‘That’s a good realisation to have had,’ Phil says.
Says Phil ‘I was used to longer sermons at the previous placements I did. But I’ve learned that certainly during lockdown sometimes shorter us better.’ Better to deliver a good message in 15 minutes than speak for 30 and lose your listeners half-way through.
In the on-line services which Phil prepared he tried to involve as many people as possible in praying, reading the Bible passage, leading worship. People ‘enjoyed’ and ‘engaged with’ this, Phil says As a result ‘people found church a lot more engaging.’ It’s important, he feels, to keep ‘that sense of engagement going when people return to whatever the new normal will look like.’
He realises that the minister can’t do everything – and nor, indeed, nor should they. The church is a body – everyone has a part to place. Phil believes its particularly important to involve young people in worship – so that they don’t simply come along to church because they are expected to accompany their parents, but ‘have a sense of belonging to the community, rather than just being on the fringe.’
As Phil has taken responsibility for aspects of the work at Hilton, he has become aware that people, even people in churches. sometimes criticise what you are doing because although you are working in good faith and to the best of your ability, it doesn’t match their expectations. Such comments are wounding, Phil feels that they have ‘helped me toughen up, perhaps.’ He continues ‘It’s given me a realistic sense of how ministry is going to be, even when I have been chosen to be the minister. I will upset people, and do things which some people won’t like.’
‘One of the things I think Hilton has done really well during lockdown is getting round serving the community,’ Phil says. What the church offered local people in terms of support and food was he says ‘a fantastic offer.’ In contrast, he feels that some other churches he’s been in touch with in different parts of the country, focussed on looking after people in their congregations rather than doing this while also reaching out into the community.
Phil says ‘So we need to think “How can we reach out into our local community? How do we identify what the needs are?’
Relationships with schools
Before the lockdown, Phil was involved in Scripture Union groups in the local schools, and led school assemblies in conjunction with Simeon. He also mentored a young child under the Transforming Lives for Good scheme – he found this ‘quite powerful.’ He has learned of the important of going to local schools as saying ‘How can we as a Church help?’ rather than insisting ‘This is what we want to do.’ Involvement in schools is not a question of ticking boxes on our part as a church, but of seeking in a spirit of service to be ‘a positive influence in school and in the children’s lives.’
Phil is now skilled in video production and editing, which is a skill he never had before. In the last few months he has created online service videos, and he now has an archive of 50 songs sung by Peter McPherson and others, with words attached, which can be used for future on-line services, or indeed in the building. Each of these songs takes 40 minutes to edit.
Phil now has a better idea of how Presbytery, and the associated committees works. He has also moderated his first Kirk Session meeting, and realises how much work goes into preparation for this, in close collaboration with the Session Clerk.
Phil feels that these fifteen months of learning have taught him valuable lessons which he will take into his new role.