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'This was where He led'

'This was where He led'

Tuesday May 8 2018

The Church of Scotland this month commemorates the 50th anniversary of the decision to allow women to be ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament.

This week, we are sharing the reflections of women who entered the Ministry at various times over the past half-century.

Today, the Rev Jean Montgomerie, first woman to convene a committee of the General Assembly, looks back on her journey.


Aged 18, thanks to the courageous efforts of Emily Pankhurst and others, I was entitled to vote.

Aged 22, thanks to the courageous efforts of Mary Lusk and others, the possibility of becoming an ordained minister in the Church of Scotland was open to me and, on January 11 1973, just a few days short of my 27th birthday, I was ordained and inducted as parish minister of Peterculter Kelman Memorial – a huge shock to the system not just for the congregation, but also for me.

What was I doing? Well, the idea always had been that I would only ever be happy in life doing what God wanted me to do, and this was where He led. Understandably, there were those who had issues with a ‘woman’ minister, but I had resolved to believe that this was no different from folks having issues with other aspects of an individual’s character, personality or appearance.

And so, with the immense goodwill of the majority of the congregation I established that there were lots of things in ministry I could do just as acceptably as a male, and others where the female perspective seemed to be appreciated.

Throughout the 70s and 80s the Church of Scotland, both centrally and at Presbytery level, sought to ensure that there was a female perspective injected into Committees and I was involved in various roles until in 1988 I was appointed the first ‘Woman’ Convener of a General Assembly Board – in my case the Board of Ministry. This was a very rewarding time in my life, and, supported by my congregation, and the Rev Bill Nicholson, who became my ‘minister assisting’ at Peterculter, I served in that role for six years.

During this period, I recall once going on a deputation to the Western Isles, when the Moderator of Presbytery announced that the Rev Alexander McDonald, General Secretary of the Board of Ministry would address Presbytery and Sandy replying: ‘actually, Moderator, it will be the Convener of the Board of Ministry, the Rev Jean Montgomerie who will address Presbytery this afternoon’. Communal sharp intake of breath; wry smile, and ‘get on with it, Montgomerie’ (she who, despite having to jump in and out of various small boats during that visit, persevered with wearing a skirt!).

The work of the Board of Ministry gave me an excellent opportunity to affirm those who are called to the full time ministry of Word and Sacrament, and to realise how much importance congregations placed on that particular role. Such affirmation should not compete with our understanding of the ministry of the whole people of God, unless, as I have detected over the last fifty years or so, that phrase is interpreted in a much narrower sense than its scriptural roots propose.

Surely, all Christian service comes from being a part of the Church community where one is encouraged and strengthened in faith, but also equipped and empowered to share that faith. Some will hear a call to full time service, others to part time, while others will be sent out to share that faith as they pursue other occupations – not pressed into a narrower understanding of ministry ‘within’ the Church community. Such a ministry of the whole people of God has the potential for powerful mission.

The privilege of convenership, of parish ministry in Peterculter, and subsequently in Forfar: St Margaret’s (during which time I served as convener of the Board of Communication) saw me complete a very fulfilling period of service to the Church of Jesus Christ – and, I trust, to my Lord.


This article first appeared in May's Life and Work. Download or subscribe here.

Tomorrow: The Very Rev Dr Lorna Hood, first female serving parish minister to be Moderator of the General Assembly.

Yesterday: The Rev Dr Margaret Forrester remembers the journey which led to the ordination of women in the Church of Scotland

Interview with the Rev Susan Brown, Moderator-Designate of the 2018 General Assembly