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'I Don't Think God is Done With Us Yet'

'I Don't Think God is Done With Us Yet'

Wednesday May 18

Lynne McNeil learns about the importance of mission to the Moderator-Designate of the 2022 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rev Iain Greenshields

“Mission must be the absolute priority of the Church going forward.”

The Moderator-Designate to the 2022 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has a clear vision for the way ahead for the Church which he has served as a parish minister since 1984, with ministries deeply rooted in mission.

The Rev Iain Greenshields is minister at Dunfermline: St Margaret’s and feels privileged to have been elected to serve as the Church’s ambassador in 2022/23.

 “I think it is an honour to serve the Church in a different way – and an honour for St Margaret’s and the other churches I have been privileged to serve because they have been fundamental in shaping my life and ministry – along with God of course!”

Iain was born in Glasgow, the elder son of John (known as Ian) and Katie. His brother Callum is five years his junior and he recalls they had a happy homelife, but not one in which the church played a key role - although both parents came from Christian families and returned to church when Iain became a Christian in his early 20s.

Iain was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was aged just eight. “It looked really grim until eventually a new medication brought the grand mal under control and the seizures ceased. I never put in a full week at school from aged eight to 17 but I managed to catch up somehow.”

Leaving school at 17, Iain joined the Weir Group as a commercial apprentice and studied for cost management accountancy, until a serious accident at the age of 22.

“I ended up in hospital for several months recovering from life-threatening injuries.

“I remember just lying in the ward and the words of hymns kept coming back to me, especially There is a Green Hill Far Away. It started me thinking. When you almost die, you consider your mortality seriously.”

Initially, he did not know where to begin and tried Christian Science reading rooms, Buddhism and Catholicism until a neighbour invited him to church.

“It was Gardner Street Church of Scotland in Partick, Glasgow. The minister there had just died, and lay preachers were filling in. One I remember in particular was Raymond McEwan who was an outstanding preacher – he worked as a carpenter in the shipyards. I started really seriously thinking about what he was saying. I set about reading the New Testament.

“I came to the conclusion that either Jesus was deluded, or he was speaking the truth about himself and eventually became a Christian and in time, a member of the Church of Scotland.”

After recovering, Iain returned to work, but it became clear to him that his future lay elsewhere.

“I was on holiday in Lewis, in Ness and they had mid-week meetings. The minister was the Rev John Ferguson and he said: ‘Iain is with us today from Glasgow,’ which meant ‘come up and preach’. I’d been reading something from Ephesians, so I preached on that and he said afterwards: ‘You have got to take this further. There is a gift and a calling there.’

“Eventually I presented myself to Church of Scotland selection school and I got through. If I hadn’t got in, I would have gone back to it again. It got clearer and clearer that this is what I had to do.”

Lewis, where his mother and grandparents were born, has played a pivotal role in his life, and it was here that he also met his wife, Linda.

“John Ferguson had asked just before I started university if I could do a pulpit supply and Linda was on a break at Ness with her friend, and that was how we met.

“Linda’s intention was to get a degree and teach in primary schools but eventually she chose to become a secondary school teacher, qualifying in English and RE and has taught for 40 years.”

He studied theology at Glasgow University, then served as a probationer at Glasgow: Broomhill with the Rev Jim Aitchison. Licensed by the Presbytery of Glasgow, he was first called to Glasgow: Cranhill for a nine-year ministry which saw him establish the Bellrock Trust (later the Cranhill Trust).

“It was a fabulous nine years. I am not going to minimise how difficult it was sometimes, especially when there were over 1000 funerals during that time, with a significant number under the age of 50.

“There was just some absolute gold dust among the people in Cranhill and they were honestly supportive of everything we were trying to do, particularly with young people.”

The couple’s two sons, Alistair and Ross, arrived during this time, before a call came to Larkhall: St Machan’s where daughter Caitlin arrived.

“It was interesting coming from a congregation of 130 on a Sunday to a church with nearly 1000 members and a Kirk Session of over 70 people. Again, we met a lot of fine people. We look back very fondly on our time there.”

It was during this time that Iain was introduced to prison chaplaincy. He developed ecumenical connections through this work and helped to run missions behind bars. He also fondly remembers football matches involving chaplains, prisoners and prison staff. One of the chaplains recently phoned him to remind Iain that he was the only person ever sent off during the prison’s Saints and Sinners football matches.

After a busy nine years in Larkhall, Iain found himself called by two island churches – Snizort in Skye and Barvas in Lewis. He says he and Linda were ‘completely puzzled’ until he received a phone call from his mother.

“As we were thinking about it all, my mother phoned me. Dad had been dead about ten years at that time. She said that an incredible thing had happened last night. I am not sure if it was a vision or a dream but she said your dad was sitting in the chair in the bedroom talking during the night. Dawn came and he said: ‘I have got to go now Katie,’ and she had said you can’t leave, and he had said: ‘I have got to go to Skye to see Iain.’

“After hearing of that dream and speaking to Linda, we went to Skye!”

“It was a very different kind of experience for five years.”

In 2005, the call came back to the mainland – and to Fife, to the congregation of St Margaret’s.

“It has been a very happy experience for us – a church that has just been outstanding. They are good people, welcoming people and loyal people.”

The family has also doubled in size since 2004 as Iain and Linda adopted three girls from different parts of China - Eilidh, Siona and Susaidh - and set up the charity Hope4China, which seeks to make a difference to the lives of girls in the Guangxi Province of China.

“I am energised by the relationship with China. Our friends belong to a Christian house church in China and we have seen this church grow and grow year on year. There are no buildings – just almost out of nothing God has raised a church in China and what a church he has raised.”

Iain firmly believes there is hope for the future, despite the challenges of today. “The secular culture in which we live is really not as secure as it imagines. We have just got to be more proactive. I don’t think God is done with us yet.”

A longer version of this interview appears in the May issue of Life and Work. Buy here, in print or digital.