Rev with hope and faith but no church

Reverend Elisabeth Spense currently has no church or congregation but hopes to build one from the expanding population.
Reverend Elisabeth Spense currently has no church or congregation but hopes to build one from the expanding population.

A minister without a church or even a congregation, has been tasked with creating a new church community from those living in a new Midlothian housing scheme.

Rev Elisabeth Spence, one of five new Church of Scotland pioneer ministers, has been charged with building a faith community from scratch in the Hopefield estate in Bonnyrigg.

So far, Hopefield is home to 1100 families, with housing for another 200 in the pipeline plus a large Phase Two in the medium-term future.

And it’s that expasion in the local population that the minister hopes will be the catalyst for a new interest in religion.

“We have no parish structures and no church,” said Elisabeth.

“The reality is that I have to work out: What is the work?”

Similar ministries, designed to offer spiritual support to families moving into new housing in Inverness and Dunfermline, have succeeded far beyond expectations.

Inverness St Columba New Charge Church of Scotland grew from 20 to 90 members within six years and now hopes to move out of rented places of worship into its own new church.

Meanwhile, in Dunfermline, a church which started out just five years ago offering worship in a garage has grown so fast that congregation is planning to add an annexe to their new church.

And while that level of success may be some way off for Elisabeth, she has high hopes of suceeding in Hopefield and has already seen some encouraging signs.

An Easter egg treasure hunt for children, advertised on social media and by word of mouth, drew an astonishing turnout.

With the support of other local church groups, Elisabeth waited in a car park arranged for the event, with no idea if any children would come.

“I looked down the hill and saw families from all over the estate walking up the road,” she says.

“It was my Field of Dreams moment. We had more than 80 children with their families.”

Armed with her faith, the Hopefield Connections Facebook page and the support of the local churches, the pioneer minister has embarked on a three-year plan.

“The first year is for making connections, the second year is for building community and after that it will be about sharing faith,” she said.

And with 22 years of ministry under her belt, Rev Spense is undaunted at the prospect of working mainly with people who have never considered themselves Christians.

“I am not here to compete with the churches and there is no sense in replicating what is already being done well,” she explained.

“What I want to bring is something different that will nurture people in their faith.”