EAST Lothian’s newest church minister, 30-year-old American Hayley Cohen, hopes to bring a “fresh perspective” and “a lot of creativity” to the role.

The Rev Cohen – the county’s youngest minister and the seventh youngest in Scotland – was ordained at Northesk Parish Church, Musselburgh, on Thursday evening.

Originally from New Jersey in the USA, she is looking forward to her first charge after falling in love with Scotland as a student.

She succeeds the Rev Alison MacDonald, who is now minister at St Mary’s Parish Church, Haddington.

Ms Cohen – who describes herself as “pretty outgoing and extroverted” – first came to Scotland as a study-abroad student in 2010 at the University of Edinburgh.

She said: “I quickly fell in love with Scotland and knew that I wanted to return as soon as I could when my year at Edinburgh was over.

“During that year, I met my now husband, Ross (Jesmont), while we were both studying theology at New College. Ross is originally from outside Lancaster, England.

“I returned to Scotland in 2012 after completing my BA in the US to spend a year working for Balerno Parish Church as their parish assistant. This was a fantastic year and really gave me a taste of the life of the parish minister in Scotland.”

She returned to the US in 2013 and studied for her Masters of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary, and began training for ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

After graduating with her Masters in 2016, she went to work in Jerusalem for an ecumenical institute that ran educational pilgrimages and sabbatical programmes.

She married Ross in Edinburgh and the couple moved to Durham, where Ross was working towards his PhD, and Ms Cohen applied to transfer into the Church of Scotland.

She said: “This decision to transfer was an easy one for me to make given my love of Scotland, my experience working in a Church of Scotland parish through my time in Balerno and the long-standing relationship between the Presbyterian Church (USA) and Church of Scotland.

“My transfer was accepted and I went on placement at St Andrew’s Clermiston in Edinburgh under the supervision of the Rev Alistair Keil, who I’m delighted will be preaching at my ordination. I was with St Andrew’s until October.

“I was approved to begin applying for my first charge just as the UK was entering lockdown in March.

“It was clear there wasn’t going to be anything normal about the process of looking for a church.

“But Northesk was actually the first parish profile on the Church of Scotland website at which I looked.

“I was moved by their expression of care for their ministers. Northesk has had five ministers in the last 100 years; I will be the sixth. To me, this is an indicator that ministers are made to feel very much welcome and at home in Northesk.

“When I began to meet members of the congregation through interviews, first online and then in person, it was clear they were incredibly friendly and welcoming people willing to get stuck in and do the work that needs doing for love of God, their church, and their community.”

She added: “I’m really looking forward to becoming the minister of Northesk and I am particularly excited to meet the people of Fisherrow and Musselburgh, whether they are churchgoers or not.

“I’m from the US, so I’m pretty outgoing and extroverted. I like listening to people and hearing their stories. If anyone sees me in the street, please stop me, introduce yourself, and say hello. I’d be delighted to meet you.

“My plans for the church will be made in conversation with the congregation after spending time with them and listening to where they have been, where they are now, and where they want to go. We know there is a lot of work to do but I am personally very excited for the possibilities that are before us.

“Right now, we’re looking forward to the season of Advent and Christmas. I know things will feel very different this year at Christmas because of the pandemic but I’m hoping that Northesk can continue to be a place where people can come and celebrate joy and the hope of the birth of Jesus, whether at home or in person.”

In her free time, Ms Cohen enjoys bird-watching and is delighted to be so close to Levenhall Links.

She said: “I enjoy walking with my husband. We love exploring new places together.

“I’m a keen home cook, singer, painter, yoga practitioner and an all-round nature lover.”

Northesk sold the old manse on New Street and the couple live in the new manse near Pinkie.

Simon Fairnie, on behalf of Northesk Church, said: “The congregation are delighted at the appointment of, and welcome, their new, young minister. She will be a ‘fresh start’ for Northesk Church and its parish.”