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How to Be a Happy Minister Without Really Trying

Oct 1, 2021

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Last month I used this letter to pay tribute to one of the people who had a major influence on my formation and eventual decision to become a priest – my High School English teacher. This time I want to do the same for my first Rector – Canon Roland Walls. In 1965 as a newly ordained deacon I became Curate at Rosslyn Chapel, Edinburgh when Roland was the Rector. He had chosen me from amongst the graduating students at Edinburgh Theological College and, as a result, gave me a gift from which I have continued to benefit for all the 56 years of my ministry since then. Roland was the founder of the Community of the Transfiguration at Rosslyn – a community of worker priests and lay persons modeled on the Little Brothers of Jesus of Charles de Foucauld and the Taize Community. While I was not a member of the Community, working alongside Roland, I worshiped with them daily, shared their time of contemplation and their table.

In 2006, a book entitled Mole under the Fence was published in Scotland. This book is a series of recorded conversations with Roland collected over a period of years and edited by Ron Ferguson.In an introductory statement Prof Iain R Torrance, former President of Princeton Theological Seminary, says “He is one of the two or three strongest Christian influences on me. He opened my eyes. Most of the perspectives I still hold were first discussed with Roland or transmitted from him in one way or another.” I can without hesitation say for myself the very same words about the long term impact my relationship with Roland has had on me and my ministry.

At this point, I want to share a couple of Roland’s recorded statements in a discussion on the process of formation for ministry:-

“I would say to any young man or woman who is entering the ministry at present: ‘Concentrate first of all on what God has already done for you, for your community, for where you live, and watch God doing something.’ In a paradoxical way, I’ve moved over, for twenty odd years now, perhaps thirty years, to this ATTENTION. I mean severe attention to the openness, passivity, empty handedness of the human being. Whether he knows it or not, that is what it means to be a human being – a poor soul or an old dear. You’re either one or the other. And to try to cover that up is the exercise of human activity – to make quite sure that you’re not a poor dear and not an old soul. Culture, and I would say church activism, enables us to go on with the illusion that we can stand before God as his strong people, and be somebody.”

Again: “It’s not an easy thing to allow yourself to return to simplicities because you think that’s, well, a bit soft. I do think these three things of the Taize prayer are important: ‘ May the Lord keep us in the joy, the simplicity and the compassion of the holy Gospel.’ Those three little things are the bottom line, I think.”

Over the next weeks and probably months, John Thompson-Quartey and I will be studying Roland’s sayings from Mole Under the Fence. We have already shared some excitement at what we are reading and I am remembering from the sixties when I had the privilege of being with this present day saint of God.

Mole Under the Fence by Ron Ferguson is published by St Andrew’s Press (2006) and can be obtained through Amazon.

Blessings and peace,
JOHN