Smithton Vacancy Update – A Q&A with Colin Macleod

On Sunday morning (24th January) Colin Macleod, the Interim Moderator for the congregation, gave an update on the current vacancy of a senior minister in Smithton Church. If you missed out on hearing it, or would like a reference on what was said, read on. We spent time with Colin to find out a little more about the search for a new minister.


Can you tell us a little about your role in Smithton at the moment?

My role is probably best described as a ‘stand in minister’ whose main role is to help the congregation find a new minister. A big part of that is organising other ministers to come and preach each week and to provide some support specifically to the staff and leadership at Smithton.
I do that along with my other full time responsibilities as minister at the Free North so you won’t see as much as me as you would a full time minister but I’m here to assist especially with the church staff and elders as they continue leading the congregation.

As a Presbyterian church we have both the right and responsibiity to support other churches in the presbytery and to be supported by them. Presbytery works like the parent and helps each of the family members (individual churches) to be supported.


And what process we are going through to find a new minister?

The presbytery provides a guideline to the process that we would normally go through and which Smithton church is currently going through.

That includes preaching the congregation vacant which we did in October, and to then help appoint a vacancy committee to help identify ministers who the congregation would like to hear preach.

Once we have worked through the list of preachers that have been suggested, and those who have said that they would come, we’ll meet again to see if there is a consensus in the congregation.

Members of the presbytery would then be asked to come and ‘moderate in a call’ – that being to help clarify if the congregation can be in broad agreement about who they would like to call to be their minister.


Is there a timescale attached to the process?

There isn’t – the vacancy committee and the leadership of the church are keen that we progress as well as we can – but there isn’t a predefined timetable. Currently we have different visiting ministers coming to lead the congregation each week until the end of March.


Why do we have a vacancy committee – and who are they?

They are a group appointed by the congregation at a meeting that was held last October.

Typically that would be a representation of the congregation in addition to each of the elders – but the vacancy committee we have is deliberately designed to be a little smaller.

There are eight members of the vacancy committee incorporating a broad spectrum of people in the church. It is their job to carry the suggestions and opinions of the congregation to vacancy committee meetings, and to help me understand who the congregation want to hear preach.

The vacancy committee are: George Maclean, Jim Chalmers, Iain Mackay, Laurie Chancellor, Ali Macdonald, Mhairi Mackintosh, Keith Nicolson and myself.

You can pass suggestions of names or get an update from any of the members of the vacancy committee at any point – and they meet once a month.

You can also e-mail either Keith Nicolson or Ali Macdonald from the link at the bottom of this article, as the two members of vacancy committee who are on the church staff.


I’ve heard we’re also looking to appoint an assistant minister – can you tell us the process for that?

We can’t get our assistant minister until we our appoint main minister. The process for that is that presbytery would discuss and hopefully approve the application, it would then go to the mission board to review the process and then the General Assembly would discuss it in May.

While permission can be sought from the General Assembly to approve the idea of the assistant minister for Smithton, the decision of who would fill that role would come after the senior minister in the congregation is appointed, as they would likely have a heavy influence in who they would like to work alongside them.

An assistant minister is also appointed on a 3 year term to be reviewed by presbytery/assembly every 3 years.


Does the minister we agree to call have to be a member of the Free Church of Scotland?

The candidate wouldn’t necessarily have to be a current member of the Free Church, but they would have to be prepared to join the Free Church as an ordained minister before receiving a call.


Is there any other criteria of anybody that we want to call?

As a large and active church we think that we would need someone who would enjoy working with the church staff and leadership, and who would know how to make the most of their gifts and abilities.

Because of this, we have discussed as a Kirk Session and vacancy committee that we would like to think of people with prior experience in another church and those who have been in their current charge for approximately 3 years at least.

That is not an official rule of the process however, but a guideline to help us as we consider potential candidates.

It’s important to remember how varied the life of a minister is and how broad are the tasks that he is expected to deal with: take school assemblies, funerals, weddings, attend and lead church courts, relate to people of all ages and backgrounds, able to help people deal with the challenges that they face in life, over and above preaching the Bible in a clear, contemporary and Christ focused way.

Ultimately we are doing the practical work of searching for a good candidate but committing ourselves to seeking God’s will for the right person.


What can individual members do to help in the process?

We need to be praying actively for the church and we do that individually and we should be doing it collectively. Throughout this process we should be in prayer for God to lead our hearts and minds throughout the process and also to be praying for the men we are inviting to come and preach.

We may also need to be sacrificial; we are a large congregation and we won’t necessarily hear everybody that we might like to through this process. We have an opportunity to ask not who we would like personally, but who is the right person for the wider church, and the community that we have the opportunity to share the Gospel with?

Patience – we need to work with patience. As a vacancy committee we are working to progress the vacancy as quickly as we can but we simply don’t know the timescales that may be involved. Hopefully they will be short – but we need patience.


I’ve got questions about the vacancy – who do I speak to about it?

Any of the vacancy committee would be happy to hear from you. They are: George Maclean, Jim Chalmers, Iain Mackay, Laurie Chancellor, Ali Macdonald, Mhairi Mackintosh, Keith Nicolson and myself.


Who is coming to preach in Smithton over the next few months?

Along with those who have preached since the congregation was first ‘preached vacant’, the following ministers are lined up to preach until the middle of March are:

February 7th Rev. Dr J. Nicholls (a.m.) Rev. C. Macleod (p.m.) – communion
February 14th Rev. Dr David Kirk, Assistant, Kilmallie
February 21st Rev. Derek Lamont, St Columba’s, Edinburgh
February 28th Rev. Dr. Colin Dow, Glasgow City Church
March 6th Rev. Roddie Rankin, Plockton and Kyle
March 13th Dr Phil Hill, Wales Evangelical School of Theology


Anything else?

It’s worth determining that while the word ‘vacant’ refers to the senior minister’s role within the congregation, the church itself is anything but!

As a church you are supported by the presbytery, hence the reason of my role as Interim-moderator, the remainder of the church staff are working as hard and as well as normal, and the Kirk Session and Deacons Court are likewise.

One of the other things that is always crucial in any time of vacancy, and especially in a place the size of Smithton, is to show unity. By being unified as a body of believers you fulfill the command to love one another – and it won’t do any harm to a prospective minister sizing up the health of the congregation either!


If you have more questions or would like to be in touch with any of the vacany committee they are: George Maclean, Jim Chalmers, Iain Mackay, Laurie Chancellor, Ali Macdonald, Mhairi Mackintosh, Keith Nicolson and Colin Macleod. You can e-mail Ali and Keith at the links below.



 e-mail Ali e-mail Keith