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Top role for Rev with strong beliefs on drugs
Chaplain named next moderator for Church of Scotland
A former Airdrie chaplain, who personally believes that the possession of drugs should be decriminalised, has been named as the next Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
The Reverend Iain Greenshields thinks addiction should be treated as a public health issue, and said he is “honoured” to have been nominated to take up the 12-month ambassador role next May.
The 67-year-old, who spent eight years serving as a chaplain at the former Longriggend Young Offenders’ Institution in Airdrie, is currently minister of St Margaret’s Community Church in Dunfermline, and said locking up people who are often “self-medicating” to cope with psychological challenges did not work and instead they should be treated in high-quality residential rehabilitation centres.
Speaking for himself, the Moderator Designate believes that the approach would be of personal benefit to the individuals concerned and an advantage to society as a whole.
He said his views are based on his experiences over many years supporting people through church outreach projects and his role as a prison chaplain as well as work in psychiatric chaplaincy.
Mr Greenshields, who became a Christian at the age of 22 and was ordained in 1984, said: “I am honoured and humbled to have been chosen as Moderator Designate and I aim to represent the Church and God in a way that is positive, instructive and hopeful.
“There are a great many challenges facing our society today including climate change, poverty, mental health, social isolation and addiction and the Church is active in supporting those in genuine need.
“Ultimately the greatest need in our society is the spiritual vacuum that exists in the lives of so many.”
Mr Greenshields welcomed a recent announcement from Scotland’s Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain QC, that the police will be advised to issue recorded warnings for possession of any illegal substances instead of referring offenders to prosecutors.
“Whilst I have the upmost sympathy for victims of crime who may have been targeted in order for people to get their hands on drugs, this is a positive development,” he said. I really believe that prison is not the answer for the vast majority of people who are behind bars because of illegal drug issues and we have to find another way to recover their lives.
“When you look into the background of those who take drugs, you realise it is largely about self-medicating to treat some kind of trauma.
“They are in a desperate situation and what is needed is not criminalising them and sending them to prison, but ensuring that they get the best rehabilitation support possible. This can only be for the betterment of society.
“It will require extensive investment in services, but I firmly believe that if you can send someone to prison for a year, why can’t you send them to rehab for the same length of time as an alternative?”
Mr Greenshields spent eight years serving as a chaplain at the former Longriggend Young Offenders’ Institution and nearby Shotts Prison.
“My view on decriminalisation is a personal one and it is not the official position of the Church,” he said. “I realise that some people will throw their hands up in horror, but I am not saying I support drugs, I am just being realistic and pragmatic about the situation.”
The minister’s second charge was St Machan’s Parish Church in Larkhall, and he oversaw major refurbishment of the sanctuary and halls and establishment of the Machan Trust, which works with children, young people and their families.
One of the significant features of his ministry was ecumenical relations, whereby all local
congregations worked positively together in mission. Chaired by the Moderator, the General Assembly is usually held once a year in Edinburgh and commissioners examine the work and laws of the Church and make decisions that affect its future.
The current Moderator of the General Assembly is Lord Wallace of Tankerness.