General Assembly 2023 Supplement

General Assembly 2023 - Special Supplement

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Youth Column: 'A Privilege and a Joy'

Friday May 6 2022

Jamie Sutherland, a young elder in Edinburgh, reflects on serving during the pandemic.

I knew that being ordained to the Eldership at this stage in the life of the Church of Scotland was being called to serve the church in a time of difficult change. Looking back over the past two years, I unsurprisingly did not know just how much change was coming.

My ordination service took place on Sunday March 15 2020. Covid-19 had not long emerged and there was a general feeling of quiet trepidation as people tried to brace themselves for the possibility of a serious pandemic. One week later, we were preparing to enter the first national lockdown.

Like many people, I was encouraged to see how quickly our congregations adapted to the difficult circumstances of the pandemic. Local congregations knew the needs of their communities, and they responded accordingly. Despite the tragedies of the pandemic, it provided my congregation at Greyfriars Kirk with the opportunity to establish new networks of pastoral calling, supported by an increasing number of volunteers. From our first humble recordings of prayers in an empty church, we invested in more sophisticated online streaming which we now see as an integral part of our Sunday worship experience. Covid-19 has shown that the Church of Scotland is absolutely capable of adapting to change.

This keeps me hopeful, since we know that there is substantial change to come. By summer 2020, the Presbytery of Edinburgh was moving forward with discussions to inform the upcoming Presbytery Mission Plan. Congregations across the city were grouped into clusters to discuss the future shape of mission in their areas. I had the privilege of representing my congregation in the Edinburgh City Centre cluster group, working with our five neighbouring congregations.

What struck me about the progress of the cluster discussions was just how much in common we had as a group of congregations. Although we each had particular local concerns, missional needs, and ways of working, it did not take long for a shared understanding of mission to emerge, demonstrated by bold and relevant projects supporting the most vulnerable in our communities.

I have found it strange and troublesome how little Church of Scotland congregations often know about one another. Many churches have developed strong and effective working relationships with ecumenical partners, but still have little connection with other Church of Scotland congregations serving the same communities. Change is disruptive for everybody, and it is better managed through shared understanding and collegiate working.

To successfully manage this process of change, I believe that the Church of Scotland needs to emphasise our sense of community spirit, encourage collaboration and sharing between different ministries, and imagine new forms of ministry to meet the very different realities of contemporary Scotland. Faced with the weight of change, I remain hopeful because Covid-19 has already started us down this road, and we have shown that we are up to the challenge. Given what we have achieved since March 2020, now does not seem the time to be anxious or dismayed.

Serving as an Elder is a privilege and a joy and being called to serve in these circumstances has been invaluable experience. I have felt increasingly that God is calling me to be here amidst the change and, more importantly, because of it. I know that this is where He needs me to be.

Jamie Sutherland is an elder at Edinburgh: Greyfriars
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