Church life in Scotland during the pandemic

03 December 2020

Jill Baker, Chair of the Methodist Council, reflects on life in the Methodist Church in Scotland during 2020.

Moving north of the border in 2015, I soon discovered that being a Methodist in Scotland is different from being a Methodist in England.  Doctrines and practice are the same, but context is not.  Not many have heard of Methodism here; buildings are scattered (about 40 across an area more than half the size of England), membership small (around 1,000 active members) and, north of Glasgow, no Methodism at all on the west of Scotland. 

This can have advantages; in a climate which still holds on to a degree of religious sectarianism we have been described as ‘the church no-one hates’!  It also has disadvantages; a lack of identity can lead to a lack of confidence in our ‘right’ to be here at all and to reach out into communities. 

In some ways, being small has made it easier to cope with Covid-19.  Distancing is possible in most buildings; when initial Scottish restrictions prohibited gatherings of more than 50, very few Methodist congregations had to worry!  Even the current limit of 20 allows most congregations to meet without a booking system.  However, the restriction on travel does affect us – with so few church buildings, many committed Methodists live far from their normal place of worship and can no longer travel there. 

What have we been doing in these strange times?  Plenty!  From March to August the district chair, Mark Slaney, led Sunday morning worship on YouTube which regularly saw over 200 folk ‘gather’ for the live broadcast.  People were delighted to meet in this way which strengthened that sense of Methodist identity.  Over time each of the six circuits has developed menus for worship and fellowship which are creative, flexible, hybrid and attractive.  Of course, as everywhere, online worship addresses some issues of inclusion, but raises others.  Members have beavered away to make sure that those without internet are being cared for.  One circuit purchased tablets for each congregation onto which worship is uploaded and taken to homes. 

Overall I have been impressed with the adaptability and grit of my new Scottish co-disciples.  Covid-19 is not going to put an end to the Methodist Church in Scotland, nor its much-needed message here that ‘for all, for all, Christ died’.

Jill Baker, Chair of the Methodist Council