Meet Hannah Mary Goodlad the new Youth Moderator

Hannah Mary Goodlad
Hannah Mary Goodlad was in attendance at this year's General Assembly.

As a student at Glasgow University, Hannah Mary Goodlad didn't think much of organised religion. It was "bums on seats" as far as she was concerned.

But one evening during the frantic run-up to her Chemistry and Geology finals, she heard singing coming from Wellington Church. She stepped inside and began a journey that has brought her to a leadership role in the Church of Scotland –Moderator of the Youth Assembly.

"I don't know what made me go inside but I remember sitting in a circle listening to the minister Rev David Sinclair," Hannah Mary says. "They made me feel really welcome and I sat in the sanctuary for an hour afterwards."

The visit made a deep impression, she says.

"Being in church can be very emotional. There's no escape.You just have to sit there with your own thoughts. I started to think that I needed the Church. This was what I was missing."

Hannah Mary will be installed as Youth Moderator on Saturday 15 August 2015, at the National Youth Assembly in Aberfoyle. She's excited about the year ahead, she says.

"It's a privilege to speak for young people who are spiritually engaged and driven to make a difference. I feel inspired and readyto work for change."

As well as supporting campaigns on climate change, global education and other social justice issues, Hannah Mary wants to reach out to young people who care about building a better world, both inside and outside the Kirk.

"We need to move away from the idea that you have to have faith before you go to church," she says. "Everyone should feel welcome. You should belong before you believe."

Since her mother is a church member, Hannah Mary went to church as a child. She became close to her Sunday School teacher but religion faded into the background as she reached her teen years.

Life in Shetland had so much else to offer. In summer, the sun never really sets so there is no night just the twilight hours of the simmer dim. Like most young islanders she had no curfew and spent most of her time outdoors.

"When I'm back home you can usually find me on a boat catching cod and haddock," she says. "I'm a big fisherman."

That could be an understatement. Hannah Mary's father gained his PhD researching cod and ling 'smack' fishing in the 1800s, and for a time the family owned a fish farm. What's more, one of her holiday jobs was in a fishgut factory, where she worked in the laboratory looking for ways to extract the most oil for salmon feed.

Island life makes for an idyllic childhood, she says.

"You know everyone and there is a real sense of community. People look out for you. It really instilled in me a sense of inclusion."

Church hardly seemed necessary she says.

"I'd never abandoned my faith in God but church didn't feel relevant. I didn't find any enjoyment in it. The hymns were dire. I'd rather be on a boat. Of course, we'd all go at Christmas to keep my mam happy."

At 18, however, thinking it would boost her university application profile, she became a Sunday School teacher. Much to her surprise she found she loved it. Teaching faith to 10 and 11-year-olds just felt right.

"At university you develop your own ideas and I found it very hard to see God in life," she says."I found the tragic things hard. But my church back home never forgot me. I'm very grateful to my minister. I'm indebted to her."

Her first Sunday School teacher Mrs Clark will be one of Hannah Mary's chaplains this year. The other is former Youth Moderator Kim Long.

After that evening in Wellington Church Hannah Mary returned to Shetland with a renewed sense of purpose. Still when Mrs Clark suggested she attend the National Youth Assembly she was unsure.

"I didn't want to go at first. I thought this wasn't me. I was judgmental," she says. Somehow her mother and the minister overcame her objections.

"I prayed to approach it with an open mind. And then I went to the Youth Assembly and it changed my path in life. It was incredible. I heard amazing stories and I found that church wasn't what I thought it was.

"I realised the church has an HIV program; that it's reaching out to poor and marginalised people all over the world. Finding that out felt empowering and renewed my connection with religion, with Jesus and with God."

While studying for her master's degree at Imperial College London, Hannah Mary volunteered in a homeless shelter. She also travelled to Tanzania where she taught science to deaf students through Tanzanear, a charity run by a Church of Scotland elder and supported by St Columba's in London.

Last year after a stint representing Church of Scotland Youth in the Youth Parliament, she was nominated to be the next youth moderator. It took her by surprise.

"This is the last thing I thought I would be doing," she says. "I had a lot of doubts when I was nominated because I only had been around for three years and I questioned if that was enough experience.

"But if the spirit is really moving I think that is more important than experience. I am passionate about Christ and I am passionate about the Kirk and all the good work it is doing here and around the world. I want the role of young people within the Church of Scotland to grow. We can and we will do great things."