I thank Kate Forbes for bringing the debate to Parliament and giving us the opportunity to celebrate the huge but often unrecognised contribution that communities of faith make around Scotland.
It has been the case for some time that, when faith-based organisations make the news, the coverage is more often negative than positive, yet those organisations provide such a range of services and support in every city, town and village in our country that, if they were to go, we would not be able to cope. That is particularly true in this era of austerity, of public services being hammered by cuts and of a concerted effort to reduce the supportive role of the state.
From my own congregation at Bearsden Cross church, I know the sheer volume of services that volunteers provide. An example is our church’s mind that song? club, which is run with Alzheimer’s Scotland for those with dementia and their carers. The club uses singing to bring together people who can often feel isolated and overwhelmed, and uses the well-documented ability of music to bring back long-forgotten memories.
Over the past few months, our church has worked with others in East Dunbartonshire to welcome four Syrian families who have settled in Scotland through the resettlement scheme. Every week, the families—adults and children—come to our church halls to learn English and to discuss the support that they need to build their lives here. Working alongside paid staff from the local council, much of that activity is driven by volunteers such as my friend Peter Drummond, who has recently given up to 40 hours a week to do everything that he can to make our new community members feel welcome.
Those are relatively recent examples but, for more than 30 years, the churches in my area have also been involved in beam, which is Bearsden and Milngavie’s talking newspaper for those with sight and other accessibility challenges.
We are not the only ones, of course. Here in Edinburgh, Broughton St Mary’s church has done wonderful work with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and with other congregations, denominations and faiths who want to improve the support that they can provide to LGBT members of their own faiths and of the wider community.
Those are some examples of the thousands of projects that Church of Scotland congregations are involved with, but the kirk is not the only organisation doing such work. For example, I know of the exceptional work of Glasgow City Mission, which has transformed the lives of thousands of vulnerable people in and around the city with the mission’s emergency night shelter, parenting classes and services to help those who are trying to find employment after or during periods of homelessness or who are facing addiction or other challenges. The mission’s ethos includes a commitment to unconditional acceptance, which is rooted in its Christian foundations.
Such wonderful work is far from the exclusive domain of Christians. In my region, the Jewish community, though small, provides a huge number of services. Jewish Care Scotland, for example, organises everything from kosher food banks to mental health support and projects to integrate refugees and asylum seekers into their new communities.
The likes of crossreach, which is run by the Church of Scotland, and Cosgrove Care provide high-quality care services—colleagues will be aware that I am having technical issues—for those with additional support needs, the elderly, vulnerable young people and many others and are among the largest social care providers in the country. Indeed, I believe that crossreach is the largest provider of such services outwith local government in Scotland. [
.] Members will have to indulge me for a second.