Africa? No, the Kirk's Sending Its Missionaries to Darkest Edinburgh
Byline: Kurty Bayer
THEY spread the word of God in some of the most inhospitable conditions on Earth.
From India to Africa and China to the Caribbean, Scottish missionaries risked their lives to convert the natives to Christianity.
But more than 200 years since the Church of Scotland entered the field, the Kirk is sending preachers to another area in urgent need of spiritual guidance.
Church leaders are on a mission to work in Granton - the Edinburgh district immortalised in Irvine Welsh's cult novel Trainspotting, which chronicles the squalid lives of a group of heroin addicts.
The Kirk will establish a base camp in a flat on the estate, where a community worker will try to arrest the decline in church attendances.
The missionary will follow in the footsteps of such Christian luminaries as David Livingstone and James Laidlaw Maxwell.
The Rev George Whyte, clerk to the Edinburgh Presbytery, said large areas of the capital have slipped beyond the Christian message, particularly around the Waterfront district, where 30,000 homes are being built between Granton and Leith.
He added: 'There are thousands of homes going up but people just sleep there. Their lives are spent in the city - they travel to town, make their choices in town.
'The church needs to recognise that the important community is not necessarily around people's houses but the places where they make their friends.
'We do not live in days where the gospel finds an easy reception, so the health of Christian communi-tieis severely tested. But the people who live within the bounds of our presbytery need the gospel, even if they are unaware of this.
'To be a missionary church is a more fulfilling task than clinging on to what must inevitably sink.' In 2007-08 church membership in Edinburgh fell by nearly 1,000 to 32,375, while the city's population grew by 2,500 to 471,650 over the same period.
Mr Whyte, whose report on a community outreach project was adopted by the Edinburgh Presbytery on Tuesday, said: 'There has been a presumption for too long that we live life as we did in the 1950s, when people worked regular hours within their own community.
'We need the same kind of spirit, but not the same format - we must address Edinburgh in ways appropriate for the people who live here.
'The pace of change around us is incredibly quick and we are long overdue in responding to change.' Scotland's involvement in missionary work extends to the late 1790s, when societies moved into West Africa, the Caribbean, the Caucasus and India. …