MSPs praise fantastic community engagement project

Ross Greer
Church of Scotland climate change officer Adrian Shaw chats with Green MSP Ross Greer. Credit Andrew O'Brien.

An ecumenical project aimed at improving engagement between churches and members of the Scottish Parliament has been described as “hugely important”.

The assessment was made by Conservative MSP Brian Whittle who said congregations across the country support some of the most vulnerable people in society.

The South of Scotland representative made the remarks during a reception at Holyrood to mark the ongoing success of the Meet Your MSP project, which was launched last June.

Ross Greer, a Green MSP for the West of Scotland and member of Bearsden Cross Church who is involved with the National Youth Assembly, said the initiative illustrated the “essential two-way relationship” between churches and politicians.

The project encourages churches to meet their MSPs through coffee mornings, visits to local projects, and special services, among many other events.

More than 60 Meet Your MSP events have already taken place.

From Orkney to the Borders, people of all ages and backgrounds have engaged with Holyrood members with a particular focus on meeting those elected for the first time last May.

The reception was sponsored by Kate Forbes, SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, who addressed guests who included Moderator of the General Assembly, Right Rev Dr Russell Barr.

Event organiser Irene MacKinnon of the Scottish Churches Parliamentary Office, which is spearheading the project, also spoke along withRev Susan Kirkbride of Peedie United Reformed Church, Kirkwall, Orkney.

Mr Whittle said: “Meet Your MSP is a hugely important project and I have a particular interest in charities and church communities which often deal with people in the most need.

“Churches are a really good places to visit to find out what is happening on the ground and understand what is going on.

“I went to see a church project working with the homeless in Kilmarnock and spent time with the service users and providers.”

Mr Whittle recently lodged a motion of congratulation for staff at Morven Day Services in Kilmarnock, which supports people with mental health problems.

The service is run by the Church’s social care arm CrossReach.

Liam Kerr
Conservative MSPs Liam Kerr, Maurice Golden and Brian Whittle.

Maurice Golden, a West of Scotland Conservative MSP, recently took part in a Meet Your MSP event at Linwood Parish Church in Paisley.

“The project is a fantastic idea because, in the Scottish Parliament at the moment, there is a concerted attack on Christianity from the humanists.

“It is more important than ever for churches and church communities to engage with politicians.”

Mr Greer said:“I love the Meet Your MSP initiative because, for me, the Church is a mission.

“It is not just about spreading good news but also doing good things in the world and being involved in your community.

“The project enables MSPs to support what the Church is doing and allows congregations to lobby them to make national legislation better and get them to fix something in the local area.

“It is an essential two way relationship because we know that churches are at the core of so many communities and MSPs are supposed to represent everyone in that community.”

Right Rev Dr Russell Barr
Moderator Right Rev Dr Russell Barr and Richard Lochhead, SNP MSP for Moray.

Rev Donald McCorkindale, minister at Strontian, Ardgour and Morvern Parishes in the Highlands, described the Meet Your MSP project as “terrific”.

“We have held a meeting with our constituency MSP Kate Forbes and regional Green MSP John Finnie which was very worthwhile,” he said.

“If there was a conceived disconnect between parliament and people in the constituency before the meeting, it was certainly broken down.

“A lot of the conversation we had was around community empowerment.

“In these days of cutbacks, communities have to find new and innovative ways to do things that might have otherwise belonged to government and local authorities.”

Marjorie Clark
Marjorie Clark and Rev Donald McCorkindale

Marjorie Clark, convener of Perth Presbytery Church and Community Committee, said it was important that MSPs “know what is happening in churches”.

The St Matthew's Parish Church member said: “We have a reasonably good relationship with our constituency MSPs, John Swinney and Roseanna Cunningham, and have spoken to them about local issues over the years.

“They are not unknown to us and have told us before about just how important it is for them to engage with the community.

“I have found this event inspiring and would encourage all church members to engage with the Meet Your MSP project.

“I will be going back to Perth and looking at ways in which we, as a community, a presbytery and ecumenically, can do more to continue the conversation with our MSPs.”

Rev Susan Kirkbride
Rev Susan Kirkbride of Peedie United Reformed Church, Kirkwall, Orkney.

Stewart Stevenson, SNP, MSP for Banffshire and Buchan Coast, lodged a motion at Holyrood last year to congratulate the “worthwhile” project.

It read: “Led by people of faith, this project can be part of the important glue that joins all parts of our community in common purpose in difficult times.”

Maureen Watt
Scottish Government Minister for Mental Health Maureen Watt and Irene MacKinnon