Synod Moderator Paul Whittle is – somewhat unexpectedly – to leave his post at the end of 2020 in order to take up a three year appointment as Moderator of the National Synod of Scotland.
Paul says, “This has come as a great surprise to me, as it may to you. I was fully expecting to remain as the Moderator of the Eastern Synod until retirement. However, I was asked to consider this short term role in Scotland and, after prayerful consideration, met with the discernment group on Monday. That was an extremely positive meeting and I felt a strong sense of call.”
Since July 2008, Paul has served as the Moderator of the URC’s Eastern Synod and celebrated the 40th anniversary of his ordination in 2019.
Paul’s ministry began in Scotland in 1979 when he was ordained and inducted as the Minister of Beith Congregational Church. He went onto to serve in north London, the Republic of Panama, and Birmingham.
Speaking of his return to his roots, Paul says, “I have long since discovered that God is full of surprises. I fully expected to be serving in Eastern Synod until retirement and will really miss my many friends and colleagues. I will be genuinely sorry to move. However, I do feel a strong call north and am really excited by what I see and hear of the Synod of Scotland, with the bonus of returning to my roots.”
Providing details about the reasons behind the move, the Revd Dr John Bradbury, General Secretary of the URC, explained: “Following consultation between the Officers of the Assembly and the Officers and Executive of the Synod of Scotland, it was discerned that the National Synod of Scotland would benefit from someone who could exercise a ministry of an interim nature at this moment in its life. I’m delighted that Paul has felt able to respond positively to this nomination. He brings gifts and graces from which the Synod of Scotland will greatly benefit.”
The nomination will be put before the Mission Council, the executive body of the church’s General Assembly, when it meets in November.
Of all the places Paul has ministered, he is particularly fond of Scotland.
“I am not a Scot, but I feel as though I should be,” he explains. “Scotland is, in many ways, home. I went to school, university, trained for the ministry and had my first pastorate in Scotland. It is a special place to me and, though I was not expecting it, I am delighted to be finishing my stipendiary ministry in Scotland. I am also proud of the fact that my Congregational/URC training was at the Scottish College.”
In Living Priesthood – a book written by Roman Catholic priest Michael Hollings, an early influence on Paul’s ministry – the author writes that it is “only possible to come to the core-meaning of [ministry] by being nebulous and diffuse, grasping at hints, going off at tangents” of which there is “there is only one centre point – Christ”.
In a blog entry to mark his 40th year of ministry in his personal blog ‘Getting the church sorted’, Paul wrote that he was looking forward to listening to God’s call among the next bunch of hints and tangents that would come his way.
“The National Synod of Scotland faces particular challenges, as do all Synods” continues Paul. “I believe that challenges are opportunities. I look forward to getting alongside the office staff, the Synod officers and the serving ministers as, together, we seek glimpses of the Kingdom.
“I will be looking for ways of nurturing the good Kingdom things, especially in unexpected places. This call is unexpected and I am looking forward to more surprises in this new role.”
Reflecting on his time in Eastern Synod, Paul adds: “I have had a great twelve years plus in Eastern Synod. Interestingly, we lived in Mundesley (Norfolk) before moving to Scotland in the very early 1960s, though only briefly and I don’t really remember it.
“I have loved being in East Anglia. I leave behind a Synod in a good place and have complete confidence that there are competent folk to move things forward until a new Moderator is in place.”