Volume 5 Number 3
by Leslie Dobbs-Allsopp
Don Mossa was intrigued by the offer of an internship in the summer of 1999 at Old Cumnock and Lugar Parish churches in Ayrshire, Scotland. So intrigued that, after consultation with his wife, Elizabeth, he counter-offered with a proposal to stay for the entire year.
The yoked parish was appealing to Mossa because “they were going to use me and need me…and let me do as much as I wanted to do.” Having initially wondered whether he would actually enjoy pastoral work, Mossa found that the internship experience made all the difference. He now says he never imagined “that I would truly love parish ministry the way I do. It [the internship] was where my call was crystallized.”
During the intern year he functioned as the associate pastor of the parish, preaching every other week, leading worship weekly, and completely immersing himself in parish life. Most Sundays included worship at 9:30 a.m. in one congregation, then at 11:30 a.m. at the second church, followed by worship and visitation at the local convalescent home.
Mossa forged an excellent working relationship with his supervisor, John Patterson, who trusted his abilities and gave him the freedom to try his wings. A typical weekday would begin with study in the manse, followed by morning coffee at Words of Wisdom, the church-owned-and-operated teashop/bookstore in the center of Cumnock. After a brief meeting with his supervisor to divide up the pastoral work for the day, Mossa would be off on a round of pastoral calls, perhaps a school assembly, or a meeting.
There is in Scotland a clear expectation that clergy be visible in the community and that they visit frequently in home and hospital. Clergy also lead school assemblies. During one memorable week Mossa led a total of nine assemblies in five schools! A typical school assembly includes prayers, a skit or song, a brief message from the Bible, and a benediction. “I remember how uncomfortable I was about just being there the first time, being a product of church and state separation on this side of the pond,” Mossa recalls. In some respects the Church of Scotland operates like a state church; for example, Scotland still keeps track of its citizens through the old parish system.
The area of Ayrshire where Mossa served is in economically depressed central Scotland, about sixty miles west of Edinburgh. The coal mines have closed, and there is a high level of unemployment with very few job prospects for young people. Those who don’t “get out,” in Mossa’s words, face a very bleak future. Drug abuse is pervasive; during one four-month period of the internship, four young people died of drug overdoses; this in a town of 9,000 inhabitants.
Mossa’s introduction to community activism took place within a month of his arrival. The MP (Minister of Parliament) for Ayrshire was invited home to address a community meeting about drug problems. Mossa was surprised at what he considered the condescending attitudes of those in government, including the MP who “talked down” to his constituents. Even the head of medical services for Ayrshire dismissed the drug issue as “a problem unique to the poor.”
The more Mossa came to understand the depth of the drug problem, the more frustrated he was at “how inept the government was” in dealing with it.
Galvanized into action, he became a supportive presence at the weekly Tuesday evening meetings of women whose families were affected by drug abuse. The group began to strategize to meet the needs of a community where drug-related deaths were calculated at eighteen times the national average. They came up with a comprehensive program to address specific needs: a 24-hour hotline and a center with enough beds for the short-term housing of two small families. The program was to provide access to drug counseling and rehab, nursery facilities for children with parents in treatment, and job placement.
Mossa’s group met with politicians, bureaucrats, treatment providers, and social service agencies to lay the groundwork. Mossa himself was instrumental in writing grants securing $250,000 in funding to get the project going.
Mossa’s business background was crucial to expediting the plans and doing the groundwork for the drop-in center. Before coming to PTS, he had been a project manager in environmental consulting. His job included interpreting environmental law for industrial clients and advising them on negotiations with federal and state regulatory agencies. Before advising clients Mossa had to “exegete” their corporate “cultural texts.” This ability to work with and intimately understand government agencies and business entities was enormously helpful in dealing with Scottish ministries to secure permission and grants for the drop-in center.
Mossa’s year of intensive pastoral calling solidified his notion of a “theology of the pews,” by which he contends that there’s much to be learned “on the pew side of the pulpit” about faithful living. Visiting in people’s homes, hearing their stories, and praying with them nurtured his own faith journey. He was fascinated by serving two churches that were only a mile apart, but quite different. Old Cumnock Olde Church is the larger of the two, and is a financially secure, program-minded congregation interested in ministering to the world. Lugar is a tiny congregation that meets in a converted manufacturing facility and struggles monthly to survive, yet it is “so warm.” Don and Elizabeth found people in Scotland welcoming and gracious. The couple were often the recipients of what he calls “holy hospitality,” which is always given freely, with no thought of repayment.
To illustrate, Mossa describes their experience during a quick overnight trip to Iona. Upon arrival at Oban, the tiny town where the ferry docked, their car radiator was steaming. Complete strangers to town, they didn’t know of any local repair shops. So, the proprietor of their bed and breakfast, having just met the Mossas, took charge of having the car radiator replaced while they took the ferry over to Iona. He didn’t want them to have to spend their brief holiday at the car repair shop. The Mossas were touched by this generosity of spirit they repeatedly experienced. “That’s just how we are,” one Scottish friend explained.
Back home in Princeton for his senior year, Mossa has realized that “the pace is not healthy here”— there’s not enough time for reflection and building relationships. Although he worked seventy-to-eighty-hour weeks in Scotland, there was plenty of time for “conversation, hospitality, and grace,” long walks on the moors, and overnight trips with Elizabeth. She spent the year volunteering at Words of Wisdom, and wrote extensive epistolary chronicles of their adventures abroad. She looks forward to pursuing her writing when they accept a call.
Her husband is interviewing for pastoral positions in the Northeast and now finds it interesting to “exegete” congregations instead of corporate clients. He wants to pastor “the smallest church where I can sustain them and they can sustain me,” knowing now that he thrives in that kind of intimate setting.
He’s also looking to serve a congregation with a passion for making a difference in the world, a congregation that “wants to do something that proclaims the Word.” For Don Mossa, the intern experience was call-affirming. “A call is a funny thing; you only know you’re called after you’re called, but then you really know it. I came back knowing I was called to church ministry. I came back with a call in place.”
© Copyright 2001 Princeton Theological Seminary