Where’s the Minister from? Part 3 – Ministry Training

In October 1986 I began my three years of ministry training at the Reformed Theological College which then was located in Cameron House at 98 Lisburn Road Belfast.  Starting along with me were Raymond Blair, Harry Coulter and Andrew Stewart.  Margaret McMullan was also there – starting a one year course in preparation for going to Nantes, France as a missionary.  In the year ahead of us were Jeff Ballantine, Allan Carswell and David Silversides.

During the course of my studies at the College, I came to a clear conviction  that it was the ministry of the R.P. Church that God was calling me to rather than to some other form of Christian service.  Also during my time at College I met Jennifer Maze who was to become my wife.  We met at an evangelism training weekend in Portrush.  I really enjoyed my time at the College and benefitted greatly from the fact that the men who were doing the teaching were men who themselves were actively engaged in ministry.  The camaraderie among the students was great and I have particularly fond memories of various pranks that were played on professors, of our end of year college meals and also of consoling one another after a particularly severe mauling we received from the College Committee after our student preaching efforts during our second year.

All went smoothly during my first year at College and I enjoyed my student placement with Newtownards RPC in May/June 1987.  Then near the start of my second year I took ill with glandular fever and was out of action for a while.  In addition to the physical effects of the disease I also experienced a mild form of depression which thankfully lifted fairly soon.  Illness struck again in May 1988 just two weeks into my placement with Cregagh Road RPC.  This time it was post-viral fatigue syndrome which left me feeling weak, drained and unable to concentrate.

God once again granted recovery and I was able to commence my final year at the College.  When everyone else was finished at exam time I still had six weeks of placement to do from my previous year and thankfully managed to fit it in just in time to graduate along with my classmates at the meetings of Synod in Cullybackey in June 1989.  Andrew Stewart and I then delayed our licensure in order to go for a year to the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh to study for a Master in Theology degree.

Pittsburgh was a great experience, but for me it was once again interrupted by illness.  In November 1989 I came down with another dose of post viral fatigue syndrome.  I rested up and tried to resume my studies on a couple of occasions, but was not able to, so had to return home early in February 1990, just in time to attend the commissioning service for Raymond Blair who was going to Galway.

After further rest, I was well enough to be licensed by my Presbytery in June 1990 and around the same time Andrew Stewart, Samuel McCollum and Robert Robb were going through the same thing.  For all of us it was then a time of waiting to see if we would receive calls from one of the congregations that were vacant at the time.  One of us would have to wait longer than the others.