A report to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on the churches’ attitude towards the Travelling community in Scotland was heard yesterday by commissioners.
The report compiled by an ecumenical task group on behalf of the Scottish Churches’ Racial Justice Group, was presented as part of the Church and Society Council report by its Convenor, Reverend Ian Galloway.
Mr Galloway said “The Churches’ attitudes to Travellers have often reflected the attitudes of society at large. However, no evidence has been found of specific instances of acts of institutional discrimination by Churches against Travellers. This is not to say that individual church members have not discriminated against Travellers and that the Churches have failed to act when they have done so.
Whilst today the church would be clear in its rejection of any prejudice against Travellers or any other ethnic group, we know that in times past church members have not aways taken that view. We want to acknowledge that hurt and make sure we build a new relationship with the traveling Community”
Notes to News Editors
There have been Travelling people in Scotland for many centuries and there has been considerable movement and interchange with Travellers from the rest of the UK, Ireland and mainland Europe. The historical origins of Travellers are uncertain and there is wide debate often clouded in controversy.
The Travellers in Scotland report was the result of a meeting with author Jess Smith and Church of Scotland Minister, Reverend Russell McLarty, during the Edinburgh Storytelling Festival in 2008. Mr McLarty was struck by the depth of feeling of both historic and present injustices experienced by Travellers in Scotland.
Jess Smith asked that the Churches in Scotland support the Travelling Community in seeking legal recognition by the Scottish Government of their ethnic identity. The matter was brought to the attention of the churches, first through the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, to Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS) and then to the Scottish Churches Racial Justice Group which recommended an ecumenical working group set up to prepare the report.
In 1838 the Church of Scotland set up a committee for the “Reformation of Gypsies.” The assumption was that Travellers be shown how to live a “normal” way of life. Clearly, this was a reflection of the times. By 1970 attitudes had started to change and the then Home Board to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was working with others to advance access to education for Traveller children.
Church of Scotland archives show that involvement with the Travelling Community has primarily been at local level and this is also true for other Churches in Scotland. Difficulties arose because most Churches dedicate most of their energies to serving static communities.
In 1982, the Board of National Mission of the Church of Scotland appointed a Deaconess, who was also a Traveller, to be Chaplain to the Travelling Community. Officially, her work ended in 1998 when she was called to a Church of Scotland charge, and since then there has been no official chaplaincy to Travellers.
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland today accepted the Scottish Churches Racial Justice Group’s recommendations to support the Scottish Government in recognising Travellers as a distinct ethnic group; encourage the Scottish Government, in conjunction with local authorities, to take steps to improve the provision of services to Travellers, recognising the distinct culture and lifestyle of the Travelling Community; and to encourage the Scottish Government to take steps to ensure that members of the Travelling Community are enabled to vote
Travellers in Scotland
The Scottish Churches Racial Justice Group recommends to the Churches in Scotland that they should:
Support the Scottish Government in recognising Travellers as a distinct ethnic group.
Note that past treatment of the Travelling Community by Government, wider society and the Churches has intentionally and unintentionally been discriminatory.
Encourage the Scottish Government and local authorities to afford to Travellers protect against discrimination.
Encourage the Scottish Government, in conjunction with local authorities, to take steps to improve the provision of services to Travellers, recognising the distinct culture and lifestyle of the Travelling Community.
Encourage the Scottish Government to take steps to ensure that members of the Travelling Community are enabled to vote.
Explore opportunities to celebrate with the Travelling Community the richness of its culture.
Seek ways ecumenically through which the spiritual needs of the Travelling Community can be met.
Explore the theology of welcome and hospitality as it relates to the relationship between the Travelling Community and those without the Travelling Community.
Encourage Church bodies and individual church members to speak out against instances of the negative and abusive portrayal of the Travelling Community in the media.