Listening Project delivers 'fascinating insight' into experiences of Kirk members

The Church of Scotland’s Listening Project, which ran from 6 November until 5 February, has been hailed as a “powerful” source of insight by volunteers tasked with collating the broad array of responses from 225 people associated with the Kirk.

The Church of Scotland's Listening Project

The project sought to garner the views of people aged 16 and older throughout the Church about their experiences of faith and church during the coronavirus pandemic, in order to listen and share what we have learnt from this difficult and challenging time. The research team is now analysing the results and expects to publicise some initial learning at the end of March, with a fuller report going to the General Assembly in May.

It was particularly important to the team that the project gathered experiences from those from different generations, locations and circumstances across the Church.

‘Both great encouragements and profound challenges’

“We have heard from all corners of the country and from those in the Church of Scotland beyond Scotland,” said Dr Steve Aisthorpe, who is co-ordinating the Listening Project.

“What makes this kind of research so powerful is that we are privileged to hear the voices of individual people. The participants have not just ticked boxes or answered pre-set questions. In each case they have paused, reflected on their life during this pandemic, and shared their personal experiences and insights in their own words. We are so grateful for all the people who took the time to participate and opened their hearts, sharing both great encouragements and also some profound challenges.

“We have heard from all generations and genders, people from late teens through to those in their 90s. We have heard from a whole range of people in terms of their involvement with the Kirk – including people who are occasional attendees, regular attendees, ministers, staff, and elders. We heard from people who are online, comfortable with a variety of digital technologies and have been able to engage with Church in new ways – as well as from those who have not had access to these platforms.

“The challenge, when 225 people share from the heart, is making sense of the picture that emerges. The dozen volunteers who were trained and formed the analysis team have been busy scrutinising each contribution and identifying particular themes. Each contribution shared with the project has been analysed by at least three people in order to ensure that we grasp what has been communicated.

“The diligence and enthusiasm of all the volunteers – both those in the analysis team and those who enabled people to make a contribution by telephone – has been remarkable.”

‘Relationships and fellowship are vitally important’

“I think the Listening Project was a good way for people’s voices to be heard,” Lynne McEwan, one of the volunteers who is helping with the project, said.

“It was a fascinating insight into people’s thoughts about the Church at this time. Some answers were brief, others much longer, but what impressed me was the thought that had gone into the answers.

“Online services and worship play a big part but not everyone has access to the technology. Some have physical difficulties (e.g. hearing). Others revelled in accessing different forms of worship.

“Relationships and fellowship are vitally important. Expressions of loneliness were touching, but examples of working together very encouraging.

“Overall, in the responses I dealt with there was a hope that the central Church had learned lessons from this time, and would take account of these going forward.”

Another volunteer on the project, Richard Lloyd, said:

“I especially enjoyed those responses which told a story about someone’s church life; sometimes in great detail, and it was good to hear positive accounts of how churches had been truly creative in serving their congregations and communities.

“Almost every response mentioned technology, and it’s clear to me that people learned a great deal about how to make good use of it, and that it will surely be part of our future.”

The Church of Scotland Listening Project was carefully designed to ensure that people could share their experiences and insights with confidence, fully assured that their confidentiality will be carefully guarded. It is hoped that everyone who participated will benefit personally as well as contribute to an important shared venture.

The project’s initial findings, updates and then the full report will be shared in the coming weeks through the Church of Scotland website and social media channels.