RETIRED Coldstream minister Jim Watson, is stepping back into the pulpit for the next three months - as guest pastor at Willow Grove Presbyterian Church, New Jersey, USA.
When he retired as Coldstream Parish Church minister in 2011 it was Jim’s second bash at retiring. But as he and his wife Anna May prepare to set off for Willow Grove, it would seem that he still hasn’t got the hang of it!
“On retrial I had contemplated the thought of serving as summer locum relief in the Church of Scotland but being caught up again in Coldstream meant that the idea was shelved. In September last year, we discussed the matter again and I sent off an amended CV to church headquarters and sat back.
“At the end of November, the December ‘Life + Work’ popped through the letter box and that night I sat back, with a nice malt to peruse the magazine, while Anna May was out. There was an advert for ‘A Summer Pastor’ for Willow Grove Presbyterian Church, near New York.
“On Anna May’s return, I told her about the advert and after a suitable libation, I popped through and e-mailed off ‘my résumé’.
“Thus started a hectic two months with a request to send a DVD of my preaching and my YouTube link; a nine page questionnaire on theology etc. and notification that, if successful, I would be interviewed by Skype!
“Thanks to Gill Fawkes and her son Stewart, a recording was made of a sermon and put on YouTube and I worked out the intrigues of Skype, practising on the family and friends.
“At the end of January, I received an e-mail to say I was on a short leet but that it would now be a telephone conference with both of us. Unfortunately the batteries on our ‘old’ hand-held receivers only last twenty minutes, which makes a thirty minute interview difficult! A trip to the loft unearthed an old phone and with wires all over the place we dialled into the conference.
“A week later a phone call from Pastor Cynthia announced we had been ‘successful’ and the great adventure began; one that would involve mastering Power Point (48 prepared to date) and blogging (readers can follow our adventure by linking into http://pastorjameswillowgrove.wordpress.com).”
“We were a little overcome/excited/thrilled when Pastor Cynthia telephoned to offer us this unique opportunity of participating in this great adventure; now it is all about planning and getting to know each other.”
Jim and Anna May are taking with them greetings from Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, the Presbytery of Duns, the Moderator, The Hauff Club and Her Majesty the Queen to the 23,500 residents of Scotch Plains on the east coast of America.
Willow Grove Church is more than just a meeting place for the Presbyterian congregation; it is at the heart of the community, with a wide range of community groups meeting there, so it won’t take Jim and Anna May long to settle in and get to know people.
“We have travelled widely in Western Canada, America and Europe and enjoy seeing new places, sampling new cultural experiences and meeting people,” said Jim. “We are both very excited about living in Scotch Plains, New Jersey and being part of this great Willow Grove Journey with Pastor Cynthia.”
While in New Jersey Rev Watson will be involved in a number of special events such as a Burns Night Supper, a murder mystery dinner and informal groups hosted by members of the congregation in their homes. Anyone who knows Jim’s outgoing personality and sense of humour will know that it won’t be long before the Scotch Plains residents will have welcomed them as one of their own. And as Anna May lists meeting people as one of her great interests they are ideally suited to the roles they will take on in America.
The first step in integrating into life in Scotch Plains has been for Jim to switch allegiance in American football from the Chicago Bears to the New York Giants. This decision was helped by the fact that the Giants have a Scottish kicker - Lawrence Tynes - the first Scottish player to win a Super Bowl ring.
Both Jim and Anna May have travelled widely in Western Canada, America and Europe and enjoy seeing new places, sampling new cultural experiences, and have a wealth of life experience that will stand them in good stead during their three month secondment.
Jim went from Glasgow University into the ministry at Erskine Church, Dunfermline, until 1972 when he went into the hospital service, then into education until 1986 when he went back into the church, becoming minister at Langholm Parish Church for four years.
This was followed by a spell as Scouts training officer in Greater Glasgow and a national director of Youth Understanding UK, again based in Glasgow. Jim returned to the education service, firstly in Argyll and Bute, then in the Borders where he was area education officer until being made redundant in 2002 as the Scottish Borders Council sought to deal with their 3.9 million overspend in the education department.
There followed a spell with Create Limited in Glasgow involving an amalgamation of three voluntary services - the Association of Voluntary Service, research centre and an unemployed centre - which pioneered the community arm of South Lanarkshire Council’s regeneration strategy.
But Jim and his wife were keen to move back to the Borders in 2000, settling in Coldstream. Jim applied to rejoin the ministry for a third time and worked for seven months as librarian at Berwick Community High School prior to taking over as locum minister at Coldstream; taking over on a permanent basis in 2004.
He has never shied away from taking the lead in the community and in 2006 Jim was one of the more vociferous opponents to NHS Borders plans to close Coldstream Cottage Hospital. Rev Watson petitioned the Scottish Parliament “To develop the local cottage hospital as ‘Fit for the Future’. The local NHS board has seen fit to propose closure - a decision confirmed at a board meeting following ‘consultation’ which ticked all the correct boxes but failed to address the concerns and fears of local people.”
And while Jim and Anna May are holding the fort at Willow Grove Church, their resident pastor Cynthia is travelling in the opposite direction, coming to Scotland to explore her family roots and visit Iona, the spiritual birth place of the Presbyterian Church.