Church of Scotland moderator Lord Wallace takes helm of Edinburgh congregation's canal boat
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He piloted the “All Aboard”, which is part-owned by Polwarth Parish Church, down a stretch of the Union Canal on Saturday and heard how the congregation is using the vessel for community outreach work.
The church and a social innovation charity called People Know How teamed up to buy the £89,000 bright blue and yellow wide-beam vessel for spiritual and educational pursuits.
Custom-designed with a galley kitchen, toilet, and flexible social space, it is a wheelchair accessible, safe space to gather, socialise and improve wellbeing and community cohesion.
“All Aboard” can be used to host celebrations such as weddings, Sunday School outings and Bible classes.
Lord Wallace said it was a remarkable initiative and he had thoroughly enjoyed spending the afternoon on the canal.
“It is a unique project and Polwarth Parish Church is taking great advantage of the fact the building is right beside the canal to provide a different form of community outreach.”
Lord Wallace is currently on a visit to Edinburgh Presbytery and was accompanied by his wife Lady Wallace, Rev Jack Holt, minister of Polwarth Parish Church, his wife Sandra, local church members, Rev Michael Mair and Glenn Liddall, chief executive of People Know How.
More than 250 people attended the official launch of “All Aboard”, which is moored outside the church, at the end of September.
A wide range of community groups connected to the congregation and charity have expressed interest in using the boat, largely bought with grants, with some excursions already taking place.
A group of elderly people from nearby St Michael’s Parish Church, adults with learning difficulties, those affected by homelessness and groups of refugees from Afghanistan who have settled in Edinburgh have enjoyed trips up and down the canal, which connects the city and Falkirk.
Mr Holt said: “I am delighted the Moderator was able to come aboard our new boat and hear about how it will be used to further the mission of the church.
“We are already starting to see the fruits of our ambitions and I hope this will give him a sense that despite the challenges that the Church is facing, this is another example of a new enterprise spearheaded by a local congregation taking off.”
A group of young Christian climate activists who are walking a 1,200-mile route from Cornwall to Glasgow for the COP26 summit next month are due to take a trip on “All Aboard” on Saturday.
And Mr Holt said the congregation was in discussion with CrossReach, the Church of Scotland’s social care council, to see how mental health service users can use the boat.
"The pace of the boat is slow – around 4mph - and travelling along the canal through the city into the countryside should provide a sense of peace and calm and create an atmosphere in which we can help support and encourage people who are struggling."
“All Aboard” is available for use by other church denominations but is not for hire to the general public.