Scotland is to have its first “farming minister” attending weekly livestock marts and annual agricultural shows, the Church of Scotland has announced.
Rev Chris Blackshaw’s role involves visiting farms across Ayrshire offering spiritual and family support as well as liaising with groups such as young farmers organisations, the National Farmers Union Scotland, vets, estate workers and government agencies.
Mr Blackshaw will also be encouraging the public to buy local produce to support Scotland’s farming industry.
The innovative pioneer ministry post is an initial five-year appointment supported by the Kirk’s ministries council and the Presbytery of Ayr.
The new appointee, who is a retired police officer and the son of a farmer, said his background would help him provide advice to people dealing with a wide range of issues such as bereavement, addictions, illness, depression, stress, suicide and isolation.
Mr Blackshaw, who was previously a minister to the agricultural community in Cumbria, said: “I absolutely love my new job and the feedback I have received has been very positive.
“I was born and bred on a Derbyshire hill farm and have a good understanding of farming.
“There are not many jobs I couldn’t do on a farm so this is the ideal job for me – showing people the love of Christ by walking alongside them.”
Mr Blackshaw, who owns a smallholding in Cumbria and has seven English long horn cattle, said farming can be a very isolating profession.
“For some farmers there are not many people who they can turn to and have a confidential conversation with.
“I have met vets who have told me that they often go back to farms, not to look at the animals but to make sure the farmers are okay.”
Mr Blackshaw, who lives near Maybole, South Ayrshire, says he is a “shoulder to lean upon in hard times”.
“I go to the local market and call at farms to let people know I am there to provide support and share in celebrations and happy times as well,” he added.
“It is about communicating with people in a language and context that they understand and feel comfortable in.”
Rev Kenneth Elliott, clerk to the Presbytery of Ayr, described the pioneer ministry position as “a church with fields and no boundaries.”
“We are aware that the farming community has been under a great deal of stress in recent times, highlighted by the poor harvest.
“People have not just appreciated the fact that he is the pioneer minister for farming, but also the fact that the Church of Scotland has had the foresight to see there is a need for this type of ministry.”
The role has been welcomed by NFU Scotland and rural charity the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution who say the perilous state of the farming industry is taking a serious toll on the health and wellbeing of many people who too often “suffer in silence”.