A New Church for Orkney
Orkney has the shortest scheduled air route in the world (with a flight time of one minute and 30 seconds), a village that predates Stonehenge, 18 hours of daylight in the summer, and, as of November, FIEC’s most northerly recognised church plant. Andy Hunter, our Scotland Director, has just returned from visiting the plant and tells us more.
Grace Church Orkney is the initiative of local Christians, and takes forward the gospel work of a previous congregation. It arose from the islands’ great gospel need and a commitment to a strong Bible centred ministry.
Located in Stromness, on the west of the ‘mainland’ (the largest of more than 70 islands, just 20 of which are inhabited), the town is the second largest with a population of around 2,200 plus several thousands more in the surrounding area.
The church’s founding elders are representative of the island’s current (almost 50/50) mix of born and bred Orcadians and those who have settled there from elsewhere. Mervyn Sandison’s roots go back many generations, and Tony Wilkinson, who is a local GP, moved to the islands 14 years ago.
Mervyn and Tony have been active in Christian work on the islands for many years, organising, among other things, the annual Orkney Bible Festival (whose speakers have included David Robertson, Craig Dyer and Mez McConnell).
As the initial core group met to pray and discuss options for a new church, they were encouraged by the offer of an existing church building. This was a great blessing. It offered a central meeting place for developing gospel ministry while enabling the new church to be a continuation of a previous witness in the community.
The building has since undergone extensive refurbishment, and is once again an attractive and functioning centre for gospel ministry.
After many months of praying as a group of around 12, the church has recently launched Sunday evening services to the public. The service time means it’s accessible to a wide range of local people – especially as there are currently no other evening services in the west of the island.
The leaders now plan to use social media to invite people who attended church in their building many years ago.
Grace Church’s monthly Saturday afternoon café (offering an Orkney speciality – the mince roll) is providing an opportunity to invite passing shoppers, and ensures that Bibles, Christian books and cards are available for the first time since Orkney lost its Christian bookshop two years ago. There’s a large stock of gospels and short books available free to anyone who will take them.
The church has received FIEC funding towards the costs of the legal work required to write a constitution and deal with OSCR (the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator).
Tony is very grateful for the encouragement and advice given by FIEC staff and the leaders of other FIEC churches.
He told me: “With neither of the elders having planted before, and not being ‘hip young men’ in the recognised church planter model, we were especially thankful for FIEC’s support.”
He added: “Mervyn and I value Grace Church Orkney’s independency, but we recognise the benefit of being linked to, and learning from, other fellowships with a like-minded desire to serve faithfully.”
When asked what we could pray about on behalf of the church, Tony highlighted three points. So, please join me in praying for the following:
- Wisdom in how to approach the community in what is a relatively small town.
- Gospel faithfulness and Christ-like love of the community in spite of Stromness being known as a hard place to reach.
- Patience. Tony, Mervyn and the team have heard it said that most church planters over-estimate what can be done in one year but underestimate what can be done in five!
More information about Grace Church Orkney is available from their website at: gracechurchorkney.org
Photo of Orkney by Srvban on Wikimedia Commons