Celebrating Church Champions – in praise of Scotland’s church volunteers

Scotland’s Churches Trust

For centuries, in every corner of the country, volunteers have provided the beating heart that pumps life into Scotland’s churches. Every hour freely contributed has invested limitless time, resources and energy into ensuring these beloved local buildings remain welcoming to visitors, are wind and watertight and running smoothly.

These selfless individuals perform a myriad of tasks, from organising community events of kinds, to running youth groups, knitting clubs and walking expeditions. From maintaining the church grounds and halls to overseeing every-day, mundane, administrative duties required to run a large public building. Their efforts have ensured that hundreds of Scottish churches have remained vibrant centres of worship, fellowship and community for generations.

Take a moment to think about the tireless contributions of those individuals you probably know (you may even be one yourself!). They may have made countless cups of tea and mountains of home-baking, organised spring fairs, summer jumble sales or Christmas Carol concerts. They may have given up numerous weekends and evenings repairing and maintaining the ancient fixtures and fittings of their cherished historic building, emptying gutters, cleaning toilets, polishing woodwork and brasses, swapping out flower displays, light bulbs, hymn books and much, much more. Thousands upon thousands of hours of dedication to preserve and positively enhance the physical spaces inside and around churches and the overall visitor experience.

Such volunteers embody the spirit of public service and commitment, often working behind the scenes never seeking recognition. They are the unsung heroes who make it possible for congregations to gather, worship and support one another. Their regular contributions to their buildings have also fostered a wider sense of belonging and continuity, that have ensured many local churches have remained the steadfast and dependable anchor sites within ever-changing villages, towns and cities across Scotland.

As the church closure crisis has unfortunately deepened in recent months and years, many of these wonderful, hard-working volunteers have also been labouring tirelessly to secure sustainable, community-owned futures for their sadly closing church buildings. These dedicated individuals have been forging new collaborations within their local communities to envision novel and innovative roles for these historic spaces. Plans have been enacted or being worked on now to transform numerous closed or closing churches into community hubs, cultural centres, museums, performance spaces, social enterprises, an observatory and a host of other public uses.

By championing creative new futures and writing new chapters of community ownership in the story of these buildings, these volunteers preserve not only the physical structures but also the rich intangible heritage of communal spirit that each building has long embodied. This continuing commitment and creativity, shared collaboratively with the emerging next generation of church building owners and users, is proving, and will continue to prove, absolutely pivotal in giving these cherished landmarks a new lease on life.

As churches close at pace, our own Trust has been privileged to work with yet another group of wonderful volunteers, our amazing rapid church recorders. These dedicated individuals have been giving up their free time to carefully document the contents of closing churches across the country to ensure that, whatever comes next for these buildings, a public record of what once took place within those walls is preserved for posterity.

The path of a volunteer recorder is not without its challenges. One of the most difficult tasks they face is navigating the sadness, grief and occasional anger expressed by members of congregations coming to terms with the closure of their beloved buildings. These emotional responses can be intense and overwhelming, but our amazing volunteers have approached each situation with empathy and understanding. Their ability to provide a listening ear and a compassionate heart is every bit as valuable as their meticulous recording skills.

We have now seen the formation of small but mighty groups of recorders in various localities, including Inverclyde, Perthshire, Fife, Aberdeenshire, Moray, the Borders and the Lothians. Each group is at various stages, some are just starting out, while the amazing Inverclyde recorders are now moving into double digits of churches recorded! We are still on the lookout for more folks who may want to lend a hand in these growth areas or to start recording in other parts of the country. So do get in touch if you would like to help us document the rich tapestry of Scotland’s church history.

The thousands of remarkable volunteers who are connected in every conceivable way to Scotland’s Churches are the true custodians of our nation’s ecclesiastical built heritage. Their Herculean efforts in keeping the roofs on, running events, sorting insurance, clearing downpipes, finding new uses for buildings, forming new partnerships, recording closing churches and so very much more are nothing short of heroic.

Such efforts fill us with hope for the future of churches. If you feel inspired to join their ranks, to enhance the spiritual and cultural fabric of Scotland, we would certainly welcome your help and we have no doubt so would your local church, whatever its future may have in store.

This volunteer week (and every other week) we have nothing but heartfelt thanks and gratitude for each and every one of these volunteers and we celebrate their extraordinary contribution to Scotland’s churches and the communities that surround them.