Last month marked the end of my first year in post as Chief Exec of SU Scotland. How do you navigate and lead when the ground is constantly shifting and levels of uncertainty are unprecedented?

Scripture Union’s motto taken from Psalm 119:105 could not have been more of a strength: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Time and again God’s word has strengthened, comforted, guided and corrected our course. An early highlight of Lockdown One was the challenge (particularly a plea from Frances Chan) to take the opportunity to re-examine and re-invest in relationship with God, individually and corporately.

We have seen the goodness and faithfulness of God in countless ways. Supporters have given so generously. And, like many similar organisations whose trading income has been all but eliminated, we have been particularly blessed by the furlough scheme and government grants for the outdoor centre sector.

At the same time, we have lamented much that has been lost: some dear SU friends who are no longer alive; a season of residential ministry and all the blessing that we typically see come from that for children, young people and team alike.

Reboot or upgrade?

For all the pain and loss which has been deeply saddening, the fact is we may never again experience a season like the one we’re living through which allows us to step off the treadmill of ‘normality’ for long enough to reform and rediscover the things of first importance. Not just a reboot but an upgrade, as Mark Sayers posited. What does it mean to be human? What is church? What is really essential to life and living? What is SU ministry all about?

Right from the earliest stages of lockdown, amazing and unexpected things started popping up across the organisation, not least in the realm of digital ministry media. SUTV blazed the trail in Easter 2020, leading to Scotland's Biggest Holiday Club, Magnitude Festival, Light Up Christmas and Colour In Easter. We made the most of our Zoom subscriptions with training events, the Big Celebration, prayer gatherings, all-team updates, staff and volunteer conferences (even my predecessor Andy Bathgate’s leaving night) all going digital, largely to very good effect - in spite of having to be produced under lockdown conditions in unrealistic timescales with shoestring budgets!

Working – and leading - from home has been a surreal experience, with all the pluses and minuses of doing life on Zoom that we have discovered as a society during the pandemic. Having been part of the Leadership Team in other roles since 2008, I was fortunate to have met and got to know almost all 100+ colleagues plus Board and committee members in the pre-pandemic period, which was a huge blessing to build on when meeting in person became impossible. It’s a truly remarkable team to be part of.

Losing the face-to-face interactions, the chance conversations in the office, the opportunity to connect in person with SU friends, volunteers and partners around the country has been frustrating to say the least. On the other hand, the ability to click a link and instantly be together on Zoom or Teams with individuals and groups has been a lifeline for continuing to run the organisation and keep connected in a very time and cost-effective way (and significantly reduced our carbon output into the bargain).

A personal highlight from last summer was a series of one-to-one conversations with team leaders from right across the movement, gaining their perspective and critical input as we began the process of attempting to map out strategy for the three-year season ahead (still very much work in progress as the goalposts move on a weekly basis).

And the reminder Andy Croft brought to Staff Conference last December of just how much God loves us made a huge impact and put fuel in our spirits for what was to be a particularly tough start to 2021 with yet another lengthy period of lockdown to navigate.

One of the best bits of advice received in the past year was this: “First give grace to yourself; then give grace to others.”

In this together

I could not be prouder of how colleagues, key partners and our volunteer family have responded with such resilience, faith and creativity to the constant challenge of setbacks, unknowns, furlough and changed ways of working. Especially moving was the approach from several colleagues with a desire to share resources with other colleagues who may be in greater need having lost income or had challenging family circumstances due to the pandemic – and our Acts 4:32 Fund was born, inspired by the example of the early church.

I want to pay special tribute to the volunteer SU group leaders who have found innovative ways of continuing to meet online or in person as youthwork regulations have permitted, and colleagues at our centres who have gone above and beyond to find new ways of hosting and blessing small groups and make the most of the limited opportunities that have existed.

We face another highly uncertain year ahead but one that we must trust, work and pray will be even more fruitful in the providence of God. I’ll hand off to the apostle Paul to have the last word…

“Since God in his mercy has given us this ministry, we never give up…. You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

- 2 Corinthians 4:1,5-10

Thank you for being a part of this.


Robin MacLellan
CEO, SU Scotland

May 2021