That pretty well describes my first year after finishing theological training. While perhaps not the Paladin of preachers, I did cover a bit of the country taking services and doing locum work. The most memorable time out of that year was the three months that I spent on the island of Arran.
The church was in a farming community; and while there was a good turn out of farmers on a Sunday, I was never able to find them at home when I went visiting during the week. So, I devised a plan. For the first part, I got up in the middle of the night, dressed in coveralls and rubber boots, and met the dairy farmers in their milking parlours. This practice raised some smiles and led to some memorable breakfasts. The second part of the plan was to meet the beef and sheep farmers at the fortnightly marts. This practice, perhaps, raised more eyebrows than smiles at first. However, once it was known that I was not one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Taxes, but merely the minister, I got to talk to a lot of folk that I wouldn’t normally have come across unless a hospital bed had made a captive audience of them.
Then the plan bit back. One of the farmers signed me up for a lambing course (you know: dead lambs and a plastic bag inside a cardboard box). Well, I passed; but it changed my life. A hitherto unknown gift for obstetrics was made manifest. For the next seven years, I spent a few weeks each April volunteering in labour and delivery sheds.
Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. Yet, looking back on those days, I came away from them knowing a bit more. Sure, I discovered some of the wonders of birth; but all that was knocked into a cocked hat on the Saturday morning that a real midwife said, ‘It’s a girl!’
No, the lesson that was impressed upon me was the fact that I am finite. I applied all that I was taught on the course and by the shepherds who let me help them. I disinfected pens. I sprayed navels with iodine. I fed colostrum. I gave shots. Some lambs lived and others died; and I couldn’t do a thing about it. It was beyond my control.
That lesson has stayed with me professionally and personally. Professionally, I know the respective roles and abilities of the preacher and of the Holy Spirit. As it says in First Corinthians: ‘Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither is he that water; but God that giveth the increase.’
Personally? I am a finite father who every night commits that girl and her wee brother into the care of the Almighty. My best isn’t good enough. The best is all that He does.