The congregation of Penicuik: North Parish Church have welcomed the Revered Graham Astles as their new minister.
Mr Astles, a former IT & management consultant who was previously minister of St Andrews Bo’ness and Jedburgh Old & Trinity, replaces the Reverend Ruth Halley who moved to a parish in Stirlingshire in October of 2017.
In their search for a new minister, the congregation of Penicuik North said they were seeking a collaborative leader to share and develop their visions of mission and outreach to the community and beyond.
Graham, who is married to Eunice with two adult sons, has been telling us how his life in ministry and beyond has equipped him to answer the Call to serve the congregation and wider Penicuik community.
“I grew up in a family that was at that time at least nominally Christian. We would go to church perhaps twice a year, if that, but no strong spiritual connection. Then, when I was 18, I moved to London to go to university to study electrical engineering and I must have gone through some sort of crisis of identity, as young people often do at that time, and really began searching for truth.
I suppose I had been searching for something for a few years even before then and was into all sorts of weird and wonderful things. But then I came to faith at university through a mission by a local evangelical church and, from very early on, felt the call into ministry.
When I set up my business the driving force was to provide some sort of funding to allow me to follow that call. But what you tend to find is that a business, particularly when you have staff, takes up so much time that the freedom that you hoped you would have had to do other things just isn’t there.
Eventually I reached the point of saying: “Okay Lord, maybe I’m not called to ministry. Maybe my role in the church is to give money to help other people in ministry instead.”
At that point the country went into a bit of a recession. It was the early 2000s, clients lost confidence and stopped commissioning work from us and, in the end, the business had to close.
Ironically, that freed me up to begin to pray about whether I should go into ministry. I remember distinctly praying one Friday evening: “God, is it right that I begin to pray about going into ministry.” I was seeing whether I had permission to even begin to look at it. I asked God to somehow give me a plain, clear answer.
As a family, we were worshiping then in Gorebridge church with Mark Nicholas. I was the treasurer there and an elder. The following Sunday both the clerk to the board and the session clerk came to me separately and asked if I had thought about going into ministry. For me, that was the very clear permission that this was something that I could run with and that the time was right.
So it was gradual and it was long planned. When I began studying for the ministry, it was at the end of a cycle that had included laying it down before God. And He allowed me to take it up again.
I was ordained into Jedburgh Parish Church in the Borders in 2007. I spent many happy years there and my children grew up there. I enjoyed being involved in the community, it life, festivals and Common Riding. Three years ago, we were called to St Andrews in Bo’ness, a busy parish with lots of different things going on, lots of management of others and pastoral work.
I had got to know the people of Penicuik North when I spent some time with the congregation during my enquiry and assessment, now called ‘discernment’, period. They are forward-looking and very lovely and kind, and Eunice and I felt that this was a church where we could help, and could get really involved in pastoral ministry. We simply felt it was worth pushing the door to see if it opened up.
I see my role as being to help the congregation discern what shape the church should be moving towards in the future, particularly in the light of the challenges that we face as a Church nationally and the decisions of this year’s General Assembly. How can we reach the community with the Gospel of Jesus as part of the local church within the town and as part of the national Church across Scotland?
It is early days yet to talk about where we will go together. The people of Penicuik North are keen to reach out to the community and to bring something of the Kingdom of God into the town. How that shapes up, and what form that takes, we can work out together.”