Kirk’s Advent calendar shines a ‘Light in the Darkness’

The countdown starts as Advent begins on Sunday 28 November running until Friday 24 December. This year, contributors across the length and breadth of the Church of Scotland are joining together to shine a ‘Light in the Darkness’ through this year’s Advent calendar.

Church of Scotland Light in the Darkness 2021 Advent calendar
Light in the Darkness is the theme of the Church of Scotland’s 2021 Advent calendar, inspired by John 1:5 ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’.

Meaning ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’, Advent is a time of prayer and preparation for the coming of God’s Son. It is also a time when we look outwards to the needs of others, spreading joy with friends, families, local communities and further afield.

As with last year, things will feel very different to previous years, as Covid-19 restrictions continue across Scotland. However, we hope that our Advent calendar will help spread a little hope and joy during these dark days.

Light in the Darkness

Light in the Darkness is the theme of the Church of Scotland’s 2021 Advent calendar, inspired by John 1:5 ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

On Sunday 28 November we will get things underway with an introductory video on our website from the Moderator, Lord Wallace, followed by daily offerings through the next four weeks. The first window in the calendar will open on Wednesday 1 December. We invite you to sign up for a daily email or visit our online Advent Calendar for some daily inspiration.

Throughout the season we’ll bring you stories that highlight how church members around the country and further afield are planning to celebrate the birth of Jesus and sharing their faith, joy and love.

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Lord Wallace, invites everyone to join us in this year’s Advent:

“Counting down the days to Christmas can be both exciting and energising as we anticipate the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Emmanuel — God with us.

“Due to the pandemic, many people still experience anxiety or still feel the pains of loss or illness or uncertainty. But we have the assurance that the darkness can never extinguish the light.

“Can I therefore encourage people to sign up to this Advent calendar and reflect each day on the hope which the Light of the World brings into our world.”

This year for our daily Advent offerings we have collected moving, thought-provoking and encouraging stories sourced from our Church of Scotland congregations. They will include:

  • Videos — Lord Wallace will introduce Advent, followed by a few extra surprises throughout the season.
  • Inspiring stories and reflections — of creative events and personal experiences from individuals and groups across the Kirk.
  • Prayers — a selection of prayers on this year’s theme from people from across the Church.

Sign up for your daily reminder

You can sign up for a daily reminder email straight into your inbox with a link to that day’s Advent window, starting from Wednesday 1 December. Sign up below: https://thechurchofscotland.adventcalendar.com/

Get involved

We’d be delighted for churches to share with us how they are looking forward to shining a ‘Light in the Darkness’. We will share as much as we can on the website and across our social media channels.

Rev Iain Greenshields is the Moderator Designate of the General Assembly 2022-23

A minister who personally believes that drug possession should be decriminalised has been named as the next Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

Rev Iain Greenshields, who thinks addiction should be treated as a public health issue, said he is “honoured” to have been nominated to take up the 12-month ambassador role next May.

Iain Greenshields
Rev Iain Greenshields

The 67-year-old minister of St Margaret’s Community Church in Dunfermline, Fife, said locking up people who are often “self-medicating” to cope with psychological challenges and severe life issues did not work and instead they should be treated in high-quality residential rehabilitation centres.

Speaking purely in a personal capacity, the Moderator Designate believes that the approach would be of personal benefit to the individuals concerned and advantages society as a whole.

He said his views are based on his experiences over many years providing pastoral support to people through church outreach projects and his role as a prison chaplain as well as work in psychiatric chaplaincy.

There are a great many challenges facing our society today including climate change, poverty, mental health, social isolation, addiction and the Church is active in supporting those in genuine need.

Rev Iain Greenshields

Mr Greenshields, who became a Christian at the age of 22 and was ordained in 1984, said: “I am honoured and humbled to have been chosen as Moderator Designate and I aim to represent the Church and God in a way that is positive, instructive and hopeful.

“There are a great many challenges facing our society today including climate change, poverty, mental health, social isolation, addiction and the Church is active in supporting those in genuine need.

“Ultimately the greatest need in our society is the spiritual vacuum that exists in the lives of so many.”

Mr Greenshields welcomed a recent announcement from Scotland’s Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain QC, that the police will be given the option of issuing recorded warnings for possession of any controlled drugs if appropriate instead of automatically referring all offenders to prosecutors.

“Whilst I have the upmost sympathy for victims of crime who may have been targeted in order for people to get their hands on drugs, this is a positive development,” he said.

“I really believe that prison is not the answer for the vast majority of people who are behind bars because of illegal drug issues and we have to find another way to recover their lives.

“When you look into the background of those who take drugs, you realise it is largely about self-medicating to treat some kind of trauma.

“They are in a desperate situation and what is needed is not criminalising them and sending them to prison but ensuring that they get the best rehabilitation support possible.

“This can only be for the betterment of society.

“It will require extensive investment in services but I firmly believe that if you can send someone to prison for a year, why can’t you send them to rehab for the same length of time as an alternative?”

“I realise that some people will throw their hands up in horror but I am not saying I support drugs, I am just being realistic and pragmatic about the situation.

Rev Iain Greenshields

Mr Greenshields spent eight years serving as a chaplain at the former Longriggend Young Offenders’ Institution in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire and nearby Shotts Prison.

“My view on decriminalisation is a personal one and it is not the official position of the Church,” he said.

“I have come into contact with so many broken lives as a consequence of either abuse or addiction.

“The reality is you are not going to stop people taking drugs and what disturbs me is the sheer junk on the streets which passes off as heroin or cocaine and other substances that people are taking.

“I realise that some people will throw their hands up in horror but I am not saying I support drugs, I am just being realistic and pragmatic about the situation.”

St Margaret's Community Church
St Margaret’s Community Church in Dunfermline, Fife.

Mr Greenshields said St Margaret’s Community Church hosts addiction support groups in the building free of charge and employs a dedicated outreach worker, a role currently held by his son, Alistair.

He said the congregation could do much more to help people if additional public funds were available.

Re-offending

A total of 1,339 people died of drug misuse in Scotland last year, with the country seeing a record number of deaths for the seventh year in a row.

Official figures released by the Scottish Government last month revealed that there were 722 drug related deaths between January and June, 2021 and a separate set of statistics showed that the reoffending rate of people convicted of drugs offences within one year increased by 11% in 2018-19 in comparison to the previous year.

Born and brought up in the Drumchapel area of Glasgow, Mr Greenshields is married to Linda, a Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies teacher at Levenmouth Academy in Buckhaven, Fife.

The couple have six children – Alistair, 31, Ross, 30, Caitlin, 27, Eilidh, 18, Siona, 15 and Suisaidh, 10, and a grandson, Oran, who was born in August.

Their three youngest daughters come from different parts of China.

After adopting Eilidh in 2004, he and his wife set up a charity called Hope4China’s Children the following year and it has raised £1.2 million to provide education, support, medical care and foster care for around 800 girls in Guangxi Province.

“This has to be at the heart of everything that we do and I think the Church, as a whole, needs to recover and rediscover what it means to be a missionary church otherwise it has no future.

Rev Iain Greenshields

The minister’s first-full-time position as a Minister of Word and Sacrament was in Cranhill near Easterhouse, a parish he served for nine years.

He was responsible for the formation of the Bellrock Trust, a community support organisation which grew to become the Cranhill Development Trust, which is based in the church building.

The minister’s second charge was St Machan Parish Church in Larkhall, South Lanarkshire and he oversaw major refurbishment of the sanctuary and halls and establishment of the Machan Trust, which works with children, young people and their families.

One of the significant features of his ministry was ecumenical relations whereby all local congregations worked positively together in mission.

Mr Greenshields and his family moved to the Isle of Skye in 2002 when he became the minister of Snizort Church, which was a sort of homecoming because his father John grew up in Camuscross.

During his five years there, he served as a hospital chaplain and the Moderator of Lochcarron and Skye Presbytery in 2003-2004 as a well as its finance convener.

Enriching

Mr Greenshields moved to St Margaret’s Community Church in 2007 and over the years held various roles within the Presbytery of Dunfermline including Moderator and clerk. He was also a National Assessor for the Church.

The minister was heavily involved in the task group established to oversee the formation of the new Fife Presbytery, a merger of the presbyteries of St Andrews, Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline, which held its first meeting in February this year.

Mr Greenshields described it as one of the most “enriching” experiences of his ministry.

“It was inspirational because we were having to ask significant questions about the future,” he explained.

“When we asked people in the three presbyteries to state their priorities, mission and fellowship came out on top.

“This has to be at the heart of everything that we do and I think the Church, as a whole, needs to recover and rediscover what it means to be a missionary church otherwise it has no future.”

“We cannot force people to believe but we can make belief relevant, understandable, attractive and real to people.

Rev Iain Greenshields

Chaired by the Moderator, the General Assembly is usually held once a year in Edinburgh and commissioners examine the work and laws of the Church and make decisions that affect its future.

Mr Greenshields said the Church is at a “crossroads” as it grapples with falling membership and minister numbers but said he is excited by the prospect of reformation because the Good News of Jesus Christ is as relevant today as it has always been.

“I think the Church needs to regain confidence in its core message which is powerful, life transforming and life changing,” he added.

“I have discovered through conversations with people in my parish that it is not because they do not believe, it is because we have not been clear and personal about our faith in Jesus.

“We have to find a way of communicating simply, effectively and with confidence what we believe.

“We cannot force people to believe but we can make belief relevant, understandable, attractive and real to people.”

Fit for growth

Mr Greenshields said people throughout the Church have to be realistic about the future.

“We have to accept that if churches are not working anymore then we have to prune in order to free up resources to do things more efficiently and effectively,” he added.

“We have to make hard decisions about closing buildings and congregations that are no longer properly functioning but at the same time invest future resources in pioneering missionary churches.”

Mr Greenshields said that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught the Church a great deal about how it can spread its core messages, particularly online.

“I still see the Church as having an important, although changed role, to play in the life of Scotland and I am neither defeatist or negative about the future,” he added.

“I am willing to play whatever positive role the Church might ask of me as it designs its new future and we embrace the Five Marks of Mission.”

“I think the Church needs to regain confidence in its core message which is powerful, life transforming and life changing.

Rev Iain Greenshields

A lifelong fan of Partick Thistle Football Club, Mr Greenshields said he is a fit and active person who enjoys time with the family, learning and personal growth, reading, cycling, badminton and the very occasional game of golf.

The current Moderator of the General Assembly is Lord Wallace of Tankerness.