A former Deputy First Minister has been chosen to be the next Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
Rt Hon Lord Wallace of Tankerness QC (Jim Wallace) will become the Kirk’s ambassador at home and abroad next May.
The 66-year-old life peer from Orkney is the second elder in modern times to take up the 12-month role which will see him speaking out on issues important to the Church and its mission to follow and proclaim the example of Jesus Christ.
The Moderator Designate, a member of St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, said: “I am delighted to have been asked to take up the role and feel humbled and honoured that people have put their trust in me.
“I am both excited and daunted about the challenge of the task that lies ahead and to be honest I have had to pinch myself that this is actually happening.”
Inspire and encourage
Lord Wallace grew up in a Christian family – a so-called “cradle Presbyterian” – and his late father John was an elder at Annan Old Parish Church in Annan, Dumfries and Galloway for 64 years.
In his youth, the Moderator Designate was a member of the Boys Brigade, involved with Scripture Union and was confirmed in the faith while a law student at Cambridge University in 1973.
Ordained as an elder in what was St Bernard’s Church in Stockbridge, Edinburgh in 1981, he has been a member of the Session of St Magnus Cathedral since 1990.
Lord Wallace, a former leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said he hoped to use the position of Moderator to inspire and encourage people.
As an elder, I hope my year will be a source of encouragement to other elders and members of congregations who already play a very full part in the life of their church and communities.
Rt Hon Lord Wallace of Tankerness QC
Married to Rosie with whom he has two grown-up daughters, Helen and Clare, the trained Advocate and past deputy leader of the House of Lords said his faith is one of the things that “drove” him into politics.
“I went into politics to make a positive difference to society and my motivation is grounded in my Christian faith,” he added.
“It is a core belief that if people are to live life in all its fullness as promised by Jesus, this has implications for the kind of society we want to have.
“People have to have good health, a sound education, rewarding employment and a healthy environment.
“I hope that my years of experience in public life as an MP for Orkney and Shetland then as MSP for Orkney will stand me in good stead as I carry out the duties of the Moderator of the General Assembly.”
Nimble and imaginative
Lord Wallace said having a Moderator from Orkney demonstrated that the Kirk is a national Church.
“Hopefully I can reflect some of the spirit of island life,” he added.
“When I read Archbishop Desmond Tutu describe the meaning of ‘ubuntu’ – ‘I am because we are’ – I recognised it as describing the ebb and flow of our island life.”
Earlier this month, the General Assembly approved a range of measures to ensure that the Church operates more effectively and efficiently.
Asked if he thought the Kirk had a positive future, Lord Wallace said he is hopeful that it will continue to reform and grow.
“The Kirk lives by the power of God who has a mission for the Church,” he added.
“And if we are to be the instruments of God’s mission then we must have a future and it is incumbent on us to get it right and live up to the challenge of that mission.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to real challenges for the Church and I would like to try and help ensure that we harness all that has been positive out of the experience.
During the last six months, people redoubled their efforts to step up to the plate, going out of their way to help one another and vulnerable members of our communities. That spirit of service to one’s neighbour is something I would like to help the Church build on.
Lord Wallace said it is encouraging to see so many congregations developing an innovative style of online worship which has engaged more people than would be ordinarily walking through the doors on a Sunday morning.
“Many people have a spiritual longing and the Church has to be nimble, innovative and imaginative as to how it meets that need,” he added.
“But it’s not only through forms of worship that we’ve witnessed positive reactions.
“During the last six months, people redoubled their efforts to step up to the plate, going out of their way to help one another and vulnerable members of our communities.
“That spirit of service to one’s neighbour is something I would like to help the Church build on.
“As an elder, I hope my year will be a source of encouragement to other elders and members of congregations who already play a very full part in the life of their church and communities.
“We are living in a time when we will probably be called on even more than ever, given the decreasing number of ministers in charges and the challenges that lie ahead as we slowly emerge from this pandemic.
“I hope to help encourage elders and congregation members that they have an important role to perform which will be valued.”
Lord Wallace said he is conscious that many lives have been turned upside down by COVID-19 through sickness, bereavement, the loss of a job or uncertainty.
“I believe that the Church must play a key role in helping to heal and renew Scotland after this virus emergency subsides,” he added.
The Moderator Designate said he hoped to use the role to try and promote the theme of justice – social, economic and climate – as the country rebuilds.
“We are the stewards of God’s creation and it is absolutely fundamental that the Church seeks to safeguard its integrity.
“Climate justice is a very real challenge and we have an opportunity, given the UN Climate Summit is scheduled to be held in Scotland next year, for the Church to be a relevant and powerful voice,” he added.
“Churches should be at the forefront of campaigning and people will hopefully make the connection that this issue is very relevant to Christians.
“We are the stewards of God’s creation and it is absolutely fundamental that the Church seeks to safeguard its integrity.”
A member of St Magnus Cathedral Choir
At present a working peer, Lord Wallace will move to the non-affiliated benches in the House of Lords during his time as Moderator.
This means he will not belong to any parliamentary group and will cease to take the Liberal Democrat whip.
Lord Wallace will not be taking part in the Scottish Parliament election campaign next year.
In his spare time, he enjoys playing golf, reading, travelling and is a member of St Magnus Cathedral Choir.
Dr Alison Elliot was the first Church of Scotland elder in modern times to take up the role of Moderator of the General Assembly, serving in 2004-2005.
Lord Wallace was the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats from 1992-2005 and served as Deputy First Minister in the Scottish Executive from 1999-2005.
He was acting First Minister following the death of Donald Dewar in 2000 and resignation of Henry McLeish in 2001.
The Moderator Designate took up his seat in the House of Lords in 2007 and served as the Advocate General for Scotland in the coalition UK Government 2010-15.
He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh,
Lord Wallace holds honorary doctorates from the University of Edinburgh, Heriot Watt and the Open University,
Christmas this year might feel very different to what we’re used to due to ongoing global pandemic challenges.
Very Rev Dr Susan Brown, convener of the Faith Impact Forum, reflects on how the true meaning of the Christmas story will never change and it is principally about hope for a better tomorrow.
“Yesterday’s announcement from Scotland’s National Clinical Director, Professor Jason Leitch, has already given rise to a flurry of wise-crack responses doing the rounds, such as: “the only way to ‘do’ Christmas this year is to kill the Turkey and have 20 round for the funeral.”
Sadly, even that would not necessarily mean people could sit down to eat together since the 20 refers to the number allowed to attend the suitably distanced, mask-wearing service.
Wakes, like every other social gathering in restaurants and hotels, are subject to the current hospitality restrictions.
But you get the point.
Part of what Christmas is about, is getting together with family or with friends to share food and exchange presents.
It is one of the reasons why so many people who live on their own, dread the season.
Without being a part of a larger gathering, those on their own, somehow feel excluded from the ‘real’ Christmas – even although Christmas has its roots in a tiny gathering of just two people and a baby without any of the table-groaning excesses we have come to associate with it.
I am not at all sure how Christmas, especially in Scotland, grew to be associated with bigger numbers, more gifts and enough food to satisfy an army after exercise.
The celebration of Christmas was abolished for us in 1640 and only became a public holiday for Scots in 1958.
That means that until relatively recently, our ‘tradition’ was for Christmas day to be a working day when children might receive a stocking with an orange, an apple, a ‘penny’ and a book. And that is within the living memory of many of our older people.
Now, however, Professor Leitch is telling us that in 2020, Christmas will not be ‘normal’ – that is it will not have all the people trimmings.
And I confess, I love having everyone coming for dinner, I love the midnight service too, on Christmas Eve, when everyone and their auntie weaves their way to church (some able to do so in more of a straight line than others!).
I love having only a few hours’ sleep before getting up to get the turkey in the oven before the Christmas day service when the children are so excited and we have an impromptu nativity where they tell the story.
I love sharing a cuppa and cake with people before everyone goes home to do what they do at Christmas.
For us, it means present opening and then dinner, Usually for around 12-15 of us.Sometimes more, sometimes less.
This year it looks like less. A lot less, it may possibly even be just the two of us.
And while for me and for many others that might be disappointing – in some cases deeply disappointing – it may actually transpire that it helps to take just a little of the load off families who find Christmas difficult at the best of times and who would face even greater pressures this year thanks to job losses or the reduction in their income as a result of the current pandemic.
This coming Christmas could be seen as an opportunity to give everyone the perfect ‘excuse’ to reassess how we mark the celebrations whether as a faith festival or simply as a ‘holiday’.
That said, this year has been so psychologically tough for so many that the thought of Christmas too, being restricted, could be for some, the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
People need things to look forward to – especially perhaps those who have been in isolation and who have missed significant events such as the birth of a grandchild or important birthdays, a family wedding, or who have even had to forgo attending the funerals of people they have loved.
To have now, such a major event in their lives, one they have been looking forward to, taken from them, could have devastating consequences on their mental health.
We cannot underestimate that impact.
If we do, it may well be one of the greatest mistakes we ever make.
We need, as a society and as communities, to look out for those around us.
We need to ensure that we take people’s mental health seriously – so seriously that we actively look for ways of reaching out to those who feel so isolated, so abandoned, so swept to one side that they are in danger of losing a sense of their own worth and of the worth of life itself.
Bridge gaps between people and God
Professor Leitch is giving us due warning here.
In his call to prepare for a digital Christmas he is saying we need to find other ways of drawing people together.
In this respect we are better off than our Muslim sisters and brothers who found restrictions suddenly being introduced around one of their major festivals the night before that festival – literally as families had begun gathering and as they were preparing the food.
Those who had arrived from a distance, simply had to turn around and go back to their own homes again.
From a faith perspective, churches the length and breadth of the land are already beginning to think digitally and to shape ideas to help people hear the Christmas story across all sorts of digital platforms and social media – as we have been doing since March.
For us, the Christmas message, even in a time of pandemic, is one that is principally about hope.
The child who was born in a manger, came not so that some could feast.
He came to build bridges and to bridge gaps between people and God and between people and people.
The baby’s birth is a challenge to the whole of humanity to dare to look beyond ourselves to the needs of those around us, in the knowledge that God thought everyone was worth sending his Son for.
This Christmas may not be like Christmases past, but it will still be Christmas. And we can help it to be good in a different way by caring beyond our own.
An Aberdeenshire church working with local partners to combat loneliness has delivered hundreds of afternoon teas to vulnerable people, with plans for similar events over the next few months.
Skene Parish Church, which is eight miles from Aberdeen, teamed up with other groups to form the Westhill Community Resilience Support Group in July to provide 190 teas to people who were shielding or at risk of loneliness.
Rev Stella Campbell, who is the minister at Skene, had heard from a friend about a similar project in Banff and began planning after they suggested there could be funding available.
As a church providing care is a big part of what we do – demonstrating God’s love in a very practical way
Rev Stella Campbell
“As a church providing care is a big part of what we do – demonstrating God’s love in a very practical way”, she said.
“We identified people who we thought would be isolated or shielding then we got in touch asking if they would be happy to receive a gift.
“It was a day to acknowledge their sacrifice – it struck me that it’s good to be remembered and the people we delivered to said it was good to be part of a community that cares.
“We were also able to cater for dietary needs, so a fruit basket was provided instead where requested.
“It was a lovely afternoon with good conversations. The key thing is social contact.
“We recognised the contribution people are making to their community and showing them that they are not forgotten.
“It also has been a way to alleviate loneliness – it’s that sense of being remembered.”
Alongside their partners from the Westhill and District Rotary Club, Westhill Senior Citizens Club, Westhill and Elrick Community Council, and Westhill Community Church, they were able to
deliver around 180 afternoon teas one day in August, with 25 volunteers from Skene Parish Church itself. The project has been greatly helped by Aberdeenshire Council.
More recently they have been involved with delivering shortbread to sheltered accommodation alongside a card made by a local primary school pupil.
Very shortly the resilience group also will ensure a nearby care home can enjoy an afternoon tea which will be safely delivered to them.
In the future the partnership hopes to expand the project by involving the local primary schools more.
Throughout lockdown Skene Parish Church had been working hard to support the local community by arranging prescription and shopping deliveries for those who were unable to leave their house.
Reflecting on the last few months, Ms Campbell said the advantages of working together were clear, “it’s much better if we pool resources”, she said.
“We’ll do something for Christmas too – we’ve been able to put in funding”.
In the future they are planning to work with the local authorities to further identify people who may want to take part.
The General Assembly has approved a range of measures to ensure that the Church of Scotland operates more effectively and efficiently.
They were brought forward by the Assembly Trustees who have a vision of a 21 century Church that is “lean and fit for growth” and prepared to tackle the challenges ahead.
Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic which has dramatically affected the Kirk’s income, commissioners approved a proposal to set congregational Ministry and Mission contributions at £38.1 million in 2021, an 18% reduction on the previous year in recognition of the financial pressure on the local church.
They noted that the Faith Impact and Faith Nurture forums have been set budgetary targets which would result in reducing expenditure by £4 million between them for the year 2021.
Commissioners approved a proposal to examine the implications of further streamlining the structures of the Church including the potential unification of the work of the Church under a single body and report back to the General Assembly next year.
Reform and renewal
They noted that around £8million in General Reserves will be used to maintain fiscal control throughout 2021.
Commissioners ratified the “Assembly Trustees decision” to put the Church’s new Growth Fund on hold for the time being and acknowledged that some funding could be made available for the local church pilot schemes.
They approved a motion in support of further strengthening the Church’s external communications work.
They also called on the Assembly Trustees to engage with the Presbytery of Edinburgh to identify suitable buildings that could replace the national office at 121 George Street as part of the optioneering process.
The Assembly Trustees also agreed to enter into dialogue with other denominations about the feasibility of staff sharing office space.
Presbyteries have been tasked with starting work to prepare the Church for revising down the number of charges, buildings and ministries across Scotland.
No return to the old ways
Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, convener of the Assembly Trustees, said: “We were well on the way to evolving a plan of action when COVID-19 came along.
“COVID-19 has done to the Church what it has done in so many other areas of our common life – it has accelerated the need for change.
“A very different shape of church lies ahead and against the extraordinary challenges that we face, we have to be ready, lean and fit for purpose.
“We cannot go back to the old ways.”
Norma Rolls, Assembly Trustees vice-convener, said she and her colleagues want to see the local church properly resourced to meet the needs of communities, both in the parish and online.
She acknowledged that there was disquiet at the General Assembly last year when only three women were appointed to the 12 member body.
Energy and imagination
Mrs Rolls said: “We are delighted to report that, after our first appointments round, the current composition brings an excellent gender balance as well as that of skills.”
The Assembly Trustees paid tribute to ministers, deacons, MDS workers, CrossReach staff and all those who work and volunteer across the whole of the Church.
Dr Chalmers said they have “risen with energy and imagination” to meet the challenges that have changed people’s lives and the Church over the last nine months.
Mostly from the nineteenth century
from the Parishes of
Kelso Country Churches
Author: James Smith, Session Clerk
Jim Smith is fascinated by the history of these parts, especially the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and has been going through the archives of local and other newspapers of these times which are now available on line.
Jim has been studying these newspapers and unearthing a fascinating account of what life was like then.
Through the newspapers, we see the trials of the local people and how they lived. The news is dominated by “the Farms”, “the Kirk”, “the Courts”, “the Village School” and “the Big House”. The church had a huge influence in those times. How times have changed. And it also provided much of the social interactions for all ages.
The books are interspersed with photographs, many of which are his own.
If you would like to purchase one or all of the books, Jim would be delighted to hear from you. They are £10 each and all proceeds will go towards church funds which is much needed at this time when our churches are closed.
Contact Jim on 01573 470 250, firstname.lastname@example.org