The Rev Dave Slater (Minister, Gartcosh linked with Glenboig Parish Churches):
Presiding Officer, members of the Scottish Parliament, I thank you for inviting me to speak.
They say that it is a small world after all, and I realise that I know or have met several members, former members and candidates for this Parliament. I do not know whether it would help or hinder their careers to name them. However, as well as people whom I have met through our public roles, they include a family friend, fellow members of church or dramatic society and a fellow minister, and they come from across the political spectrum.
That fact, along with my living and working in Gartcosh and Glenboig—two small but growing villages—reminds me that, although we are a country of 5 million people, in many ways we are still a close-knit community. That is the case to the extent that, if we meet a Scot while abroad on holiday, it is almost inevitable that there will be some link—friends in common, or something else.
In the Bible, it is recorded that Jesus told us to love our neighbour. When challenged by a ruler—an MSP of his day, perhaps—to say who was his neighbour, Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan, suggesting that a member of a different community or nation was as much a neighbour as someone from the same race, religion, family or street. As has been said countless times since, even from this podium, that makes everyone our neighbour.
On Thursday, I will travel abroad with the charity EMMS International, along with 27 others, most of them from Scotland, to do a sponsored bike ride of 250 miles—yes, I have the sponsor sheets with me—to meet and support some neighbours who do not live next door. You do not need me to tell you of the links between Scotland and Malawi, from David Livingstone to the Scotland Malawi Partnership. As well as raising funds for mother and baby health, HIV/AIDS prevention and care, and nutritional and environmental health, I hope that that visit will be transformative, both for myself and for those who have supported me, so that we can learn together about building relationships with some of our neighbours in the global village.
I believe that, for me, that is part of Jesus’s command to love God with your whole being, and to love your neighbour as yourself.
Politicians and faith leaders roles have some similarities, as well as some differences. Perhaps one of those similarities is the fact that we can be seen—rightly or wrongly—as operating in a different world from those whom we serve. I am convinced that, by getting to know all our neighbours better—those next door and those around the world—we will become ever more the people and the community that God intends us to be.