Moderator announces first "farming minister" during Ayr Presbytery visit

Moderator with cow
Rt Rev Dr Angus Morrison unveiled the “innovative and creative” 'farming minister' post during a visit to Ayr livestock mart Tuesday 8 March.

The Church of Scotland is appointing its first ever dedicated "farming minister" to help support people in the hard-pressed agricultural industry.

Moderator of the General Assembly the Rev Dr Angus Morrison unveiled the "innovative and creative" Pioneer Ministry post during a visit to Ayr Mart this morning.

The announcement has been warmly welcomed by National Farmers Union Scotland and rural charity RSABI who say the perilous state of the ailing sector is taking a "serious" toll on the health and wellbeing of many people who too often "suffer in silence".

Union leaders say low produce prices and major problems with Common Agricultural Policy payments were contributing to high levels of stress and mental health issues among farmers, who often feel isolated and cut off from other people.

Dr Morrison, who grew up in the Highlands, said: "I am delighted to announce the creation of this new ground breaking post to reach out to people in the farming community in Ayrshire.

"It is hoped that through this new position the Church can meet farmers where they are and build relationships that will allow an understanding of the issues and stresses related to modern day farming.

"The Church cares deeply about people in all our communities and I am confident that whoever fills this important role will make a substantial difference to the lives of many people.

"Ayr Presbytery is to be warmly congratulated for responding to a pressing need in such an imaginative way."

The Pioneer Minister, who is expected to have a keen understanding of rural affairs, will visit farms to provide spiritual and family support, counselling and champion the industry, workers' rights and encourage people to buy local produce.

They will also interact with young farmer groups, NFU representatives, visit the weekly livestock mart, annual agriculture shows and draw together groups of people linked to the industry like vets, mart staff and estate workers.

The five-year pilot post, which is being advertised shortly, could be rolled out across other parts of rural Scotland in the future if it proves successful in reconnecting rural Ayrshire with Christianity.

The Rev John Paterson, minister at Lugar, linked with Old Cumnock Church and a former Mission Convener at Ayr Presbytery, has been at the forefront of promoting the role alongside elder Isabell Montgomerie, a former Presbytery moderator.

He said: "Modern day farming is stressful and issues faced by farmers include the struggle with fair trading, market values, livestock and financial hardship due to the collapse of milk prices.

"We want to support our farmers in faith and action and certainty in terms of outreach and witness to enable them spiritually to thrive."

Christine Cuthbertson, Ayrshire Regional Manager for NFU Scotland said: "Having been with NFU Scotland for almost 20 years, I cannot recall a time where farmers in Ayrshire have had to face such a storm of ill winds battering against them.

"Exceptionally poor commodity prices across all sectors, especially for many of our dairy producers, and the delay in European farm support payments from the Scottish Government, are taking a serious toll on farmer's health, businesses and family life.

"The creation of a new rural ministry within Ayrshire will provide a vital support role to those who are suffering."

Nina Clancy, chief executive officer of RSABI, said: "I applaud the Church of Scotland for its support of the new rural ministry in Ayr.

"The farming industry is facing challenging times and many farming families are struggling.

"RSABI is experiencing a substantial increase in the number of people looking for support and financial assistance.

"Having someone to talk to is so important because a problem shared is often a problem halved.

"But unfortunately many in the industry suffer in silence.

"I hope that having someone local to talk to in confidence will encourage more people to seek support."

The Pioneer Minister will be based at Craig Wilson Livestock Mart in Ayr which has kindly agreed to provide office space.

Mike Craig of Craig Wilson Ltd said: "The Church to my mind has always been seen to be the hub of a community and the Mart is seen to be at the hub of the agricultural gcommunity

"What could be more appropriate than Mart and Kirk working together to offer a stronger hub, in these hard times, to help support an ailing sector, and the many individual characters that create that community?"