In a sense, that characterises my journey to and through faith. There are some for whom Christian commitment brings a massive and radical life-change. Others experience a gradual deepening of understanding and commitment. For me it seems to be a series of step changes. I go along quite happily where I am for a while and then something forces me up to the next rung or step. Or sometimes it’s just a sudden realisation that I’ve taken that step and I’m looking out with a slightly different view.
All this time I was working in the electronics industry, moving from technician to engineer to senior engineer and, latterly, to principal engineer. Although I worked for the same company, we were under different ownership several times. I joke that I worked for three different companies and didn’t move desks once. It’s not too far from the truth. I never left, just ended up with new owners. From relatively early on, our ownership changed from UK to US companies and, if there’s one thing that drives a US company, it’s the ‘bottom line’. ‘Restructuring’ (their euphemism for redundancies) became a regular, 6-month, occurrence. The team I worked for became smaller and smaller until we were all doing several jobs including our own ‘specialisms’.
Every few years I would get a bit ‘twitchy’, thinking it might be time to move on to something new, but either a new project came along or I got a promotion or new responsibilities and that get me happy for a while. Just before I left, I was in a fairly senior position, with a small team working for me, travelling regularly to customers and our offices throughout Europe. We were making inroads to China and the far east and it looked likely that I would have to support our products there too. I was also earning a lot more money than I expect I’ll see as a minister.
But it didn’t seem enough. Not in the sense of wanting more money or more travel or more responsibility. Rather there was a sense of dissatisfaction and the feeling that it wasn’t what I should be doing any more. In church I was also ‘progressing’. I had taken over running the youth club when Bryan left. I took over organising the summer and Easter missions. I had become an elder. I had even led services, both youth services and our elders’ services.
Being heavily involved in youthwork, it seemed logical to consider whether that was where I was being drawn to. I looked at the possibility of going into full-time youthwork. It didn’t ‘feel’ right. I considered teaching but, again, it didn’t feel like the right thing. A number of people asked if I had considered going into the ministry and I always emphatically said, “No way.” I had a list of reasons, a long list of reasons, why that would never happen.
Then, one evening, after youth club, I was having a perfectly innocuous conversation with some other youth leaders. As we were speaking about things that were coming up for each of us, it struck me that one thing that I had just agreed to do was the last thing on my very long list of objections. Over a period of a couple of years, each one of them had been ticked off as “done”. A very scary moment followed. I could choose to extend my list or see where accepting it as done might take me. A very late-night email to Bryan resulted in an early Saturday phone call which confused my wife – I hadn’t spoken to her about it and wanted a ‘Godly’ perspective (but Bryan would do – joking). After much talking and explanation and with my wife’s support, I started on the Church of Scotland’s enquiry process.
So, I had a grand plan. I would take a year to save up so I could afford to be a student again. I would go through the CofS’s process and I’d go to uni, get a degree and become a minister. Seemed very simple. If only I’d known then what I know now, I suspect I’d still be an engineer (and much richer).
My savings weren’t exactly growing and time was marching on and all the while I had this sense of needing to get a move on and leave work sooner rather than later. I kept resisting it, but the pressure to ‘step out’ kept growing until I decided that I would apply to uni early and just see what happened. I hadn’t actually done anything practical, merely made the mental decision, when one of those 6-month cycles came round at work. My team wasn’t affected by restructuring but the company always gave consideration to volunteers. I talked it over with my wife, applied and 3 weeks later was walking out the door with more money than I could have saved in 2 years but no uni place and an uncertain future at the hands of the CofS.
I quickly banged in an application to Glasgow and Edinburgh (my preferred choice). It was rushed because we were about to go on our family holiday. When we returned, I had an unconditional acceptance from Edinburgh. Glasgow never did reply. I was a student again and had the strange feeling that I had stepped on to a fast-moving walkway that was travelling in a direction that I didn’t have any control over.