I am delighted to speak in this members’ business debate on Serve Scotland, and I congratulate Kate Forbes on giving us the opportunity to speak in it.
Serve Scotland, which was launched less than two years ago, is a passionate movement that brings inspiration and creativity to encourage the Christian faith community to serve the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised. It helps to highlight the invaluable role that church-based organisations can play in our modern world.
I will never forget a sermon that was delivered by a minister of mine who will remain nameless. He said that it was really important for Christians not to expect thanks or praise for the work that they did in the community on behalf of the church. He was often seen as very ungrateful, although I know that he certainly was not. That sermon sat uncomfortably with lots of people in the congregation, because words of praise and thanks can be a spur for a lot of people. I know that they did not do things just for the glory, but a little pat on the back often helps.
Serve Scotland has become the champion of those individuals and groups. It does not exist to promote any one church or organisation; rather, it promotes all the good work that is being done by churches and organisations for the good of all people and communities in Scotland.
I thank Serve Scotland for its briefing and allowing us to thank communities and individuals who help. I also thank it for giving us some idea of the work that is carried out across Scotland. It has been estimated that, in Scotland, there are 9,000 social action projects that are run by churches with £93 million-worth of economic impact, 9 million volunteer hours and 2.2 million paid staff hours. All those numbers are massive but, as Kate Forbes said, we must remember that they relate to individuals.
The church has been an important part of my life, as I know it has for many people in the chamber and across Scotland. It is now about much more than Sunday mornings. Of course it is about faith, community and responsibility, but it is increasingly about churches without walls. It is not about damp and dingy walls; it is about getting out into the community. That has always been the case; it is not a new thing. We have heard about loving our neighbour and the story of the Good Samaritan.
Organisations such as Serve Scotland are an important part of the church community. Thousands of volunteers take time to serve those who really need a bit of help, whether in food banks, with debt advice, in night shelters or in refugee support. Such social action is important to a prosperous and compassionate society.
I want to touch on two fantastic examples of that Christian social action through Serve Scotland in my Galloway and West Dumfries constituency. The good companions project, which is run by Maxwelltown West Church of Scotland in Dumfries for its senior members, provides regular meetings that give its members lively companionship, speakers and entertainment for the young at heart.
There is also the new life church in Castle Douglas. As well as its regular services, it provides a range of groups and projects for the local community, including the helping hands food bank, the elderberries lunch club, the hub youth club, parentalk and the cap debt centre.
I always remember getting little tubes of Smarties in my own church. We ate the Smarties and filled the tubes with 20p pieces for WaterAid abroad.
Gatehouse community church provides music and youth club events for all the young folk in the village.
Those people are examples of people who have contributed. It is important to recognise that they are showing their Christian responsibility to help the poor and vulnerable and that they are taking action. Serve Scotland is empowering those organisations to ensure that their work has the best possible impact on our communities.
I wish Serve Scotland all the very best in its continuing journey.