A new church youth worker, who spent her childhood holidaying in Shetland, is returning to the “incredibly beautiful” islands, which have always held a special place in her heart.

Ellen Weir, the new Children's and Youth Worker in Shetland
Ellen Weir, the new Children’s and Youth Worker in Shetland

Ellen, originally from Glasgow, spent three years studying at Durham University before moving to London for seven years. Since returning to Scotland, she is now setting up home in Shetland as the new local Children’s and Youth Worker for the Church of Scotland.

She said: “My mum was born and brought up here and as children we enjoyed coming back to visit pretty much every year as we were growing up.

“When my husband was looking at possible charges and one in Dunrossness came up it just felt like absolutely the right thing for us both.

“It’s incredibly beautiful, whatever time of year it is, and the folk we’ve got to know here are wonderful.

“Now Shetland completely feels like home!”

Ellen met her husband, Rev Alastair Weir – a Baptist Church pastor who was inducted at Dunrossness Baptish Church last November – whilst studying for ministry in 2015. Their ecumenical marriage is a reflection of Ellen’s interest in cross-denominational working.

“I’ve always been orientated towards interfaith working and I’m really keen to help break down barriers between groups of people wherever possible.

“So I suppose my ecumenical marriage is just another way that I’m living out my commitment to inter-denominational dialogue and understanding!”

The ‘sense that God was calling me to youth ministry’

Ellen Weir and her husband Alastair Weir – a Baptist Church pastor based at Dunrossness Baptish Church.
Ellen Weir and her husband Alastair Weir – a Baptist Church pastor based at Dunrossness Baptish Church.

Ellen was called into youth work whilst attending her local church in London, when she was given the opportunity to work with the youth group there.

“After I was given the chance to get involved with the youth group, I soon got a sense that God was calling me to give more of my time to youth ministry so I started my youth work and ministry diploma at Oasis and took up a role at an ecumenical youth work charity, alongside the work I was already doing at the church.”

However, she has always worked in one way or another with young people.

“Even when I was a young person myself, I was drawn to working with other children and young people, whether that was playing with my younger cousins, supporting younger students at school or working with children with special needs at after-school and holiday clubs.”

A period of transition for the islands

The introduction of Ellen, as she starts her new role on Monday 9 July, comes as Shetland continues to explore establishing a single parish on the islands. With this, there are challenges to be met.

Rev Jayne Scott of the Church of Scotland’s Ministries Council said:

“The Ministries Council are delighted to welcome Ellen as Youth and Children’s Worker, Presbytery of Shetland.

“This new role brings an exciting challenge for Ellen and for Shetland with a healthy opportunity for youth and children’s work on the isles.

“Ellen brings a wealth of experience and a sound knowledge of Shetland life, which I’m sure will positively contribute to the Church of Scotland’s ministry on Shetland.

“I wish her every success and enjoyment in the new role.”

Ellen said: “The Church of Scotland in Shetland is exploring the possibility of transitioning from being organised in a number of parishes to becoming one parish with a team ministry – inevitably, any period of transition brings challenges as we try to work out what things will look like and how things will move forward.

“There’s also the geographic challenge of connecting well with communities over such a wide area, including those not on the Shetland mainland.

“However, all challenges also bring opportunities and I am very excited for the opportunities presented by the transition to discern where God is leading us.

“I think a lot of pinpointing these opportunities will be shaped by discussion and prayer as I spend my first few months travelling across Shetland meeting people of all ages and finding out more about the shape of youth and children’s work in Shetland across the board.

“Ideally, I’d really like to develop our offering to schools. But as I say, most of all I want to be attentive to where God is leading.”

An ‘island community working ecumenically together’

Working with secular youth groups, as well as cross-denominationally, is also something Ellen feels will be integral as she meets the challenges of reaching out to younger people through faith.

“Many young people now don’t have any links with church, and nor do their parents or guardians.

“So if they’re going to have the chance to learn about faith and engage with questions about it then we have to be working with them where they are.

“I feel really strongly about the benefits of partnership working – we are all part of the community and I think we can all work better for the benefit of our children, young people and families if we’re working together, supporting each other and sharing understanding and insights.

“Ecumenical working is already a key feature of how churches operate in Shetland, which for me is very encouraging to see.

“We are an island community and sharing resources to help each other is an important part of life so that extends to how churches work together too.”

Fortunately, in her spare time Ellen enjoys driving – “which is great as my new role will involve plenty of that!” – and going out walking on the nearby beaches in Shetland.

She’s also keen to get into dingy sailing “but I should maybe wait until I’ve got my feet under the table in the job before I add another thing to the mix!”

‘An exciting step’ for the Kirk in Shetland

Ellen’s manager, Rev Ian Murray, said: “The appointment of Ellen Weir marks an exciting step for the Church of Scotland in Shetland.

“Unlike previous appointments, Ellen has a Shetland-wide remit, supporting and encouraging existing work with younger folk throughout the whole of the Shetland Islands, as well as working in partnership with other denominations and initiating new and exciting activities in schools and communities.

“It’s also significant that her appointment leads the way in a new chapter for the Church of Scotland in Shetland as we look towards establishing a single parish for the whole of Shetland.

“These are times of great change, but also a time of renewing and reforming our commitment to mission and pastoral care throughout the whole of Shetland.

“I look forward to working with Ellen and, along with many others, welcome her and the many gifts she brings to these exciting times that lie ahead.”