THE new Moderator of the Church of Scotland has condemned the levels of poverty in the UK as “unacceptable”.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Sunday National, Sally Foster-Fulton said she was “greatly concerned” about the rise in food banks.

“Poverty shocks me wherever I see it – and in one of the richest countries in the world, to see these levels of poverty is unacceptable,” she said.

Foster-Fulton is particularly concerned about the rise in food banks, saying they are not the solution to food insecurity.

“People are hungry and I think it is quite striking that food banks have become part of the fabric so we have almost normalised them,” she warned.

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“On the other hand, you cannot let people starve so one of the things I have pushed for churches and individuals to do is that every single time they donate to a food bank, they write to their MP or MSP and ask why they are donating to a food bank in 21st-century Scotland.

“That way you are addressing the issue and not sitting on your hands but you are also saying ‘this is not the way to do this as it is not a solution’.

“Organisations like the Trussell Trust are definitely moving into a space where they are saying this is not a sustainable solution.”

Foster-Fulton said that what she wanted to do as Moderator was “raise the gaze”.

“The whole world has been through quite a traumatic experience with regard to Covid and we are still recovering so this is the time to find a new normal and galvanise ourselves,” she explained.

“The Church and other faith groups need to speak out and act out together against anything that causes people harm and suffering.

“We need to remember who needs to be at the head of the queue – and the people who need to be at the head of the queue from a Gospel perspective are those who are on the margins and struggling the most.”


Foster-Fulton, who moved to Scotland from South Carolina 33 years ago, has taken a year’s sabbatical from her role as head of Christian Aid Scotland to act as Moderator and has been appointed to the post 24 years after being ordained as a Church of Scotland minister.

She said her appointment was unexpected but a “real honour”.

Asked if the Church of Scotland had any relevance today as a national church when congregations are shrinking, churches are closing and fewer candidates are coming forward for the ministry, Foster-Fulton said its relevance came from its “authenticity” and the work that it carries out in communities across Scotland, including work by its CrossReach social care arm.

She pointed out the Church also works with Christian Aid and other international organisations to make a global impact.

“Having said that, we absolutely need to speak out more loudly and clearly and also not by ourselves so that we are working, acting and speaking alongside other faith communities,” said Foster-Fulton.

This year’s General Assembly put out a statement that the Kirk would “remain impartial” on the issue of Scottish independence but Foster-Fulton denied this was sitting on the fence.

“I think the Church offers a space for critical thinking so I wouldn’t say it is sitting on the fence – I would say it is offering a space,” she said. “And the Church has never said ‘we don’t think it is important’ – of course it is, and it is important that people have a space to think and consider and make their own decisions.”

Before devolution, the Kirk was represented on the Scottish Constitutional Convention but Foster-Fulton said that if a similar body were set up to look at Scottish independence, any Church of Scotland representation would have to be “considered carefully”.

“The churches and faith communities are part of Scotland, part of the fabric, so I would hope that those voices would be in that space but whether the Church of Scotland would do that officially would need to be considered – I am not in a position to say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ to be honest.”

This year’s General Assembly agreed a statement should be prepared to acknowledge and apologise for the Kirk’s connection to slavery.

The decisions were made following the publication of a report on the Kirk’s connections to the transatlantic slave trade, which reveals some Church of Scotland ministers and elders inherited wealth made on plantations from relatives and some buildings have memorials to people who profited from the slave trade.

Part of Foster-Fulton’s year as Moderator may now include a visit to the Caribbean as the research for the report involved the Church in Trinidad and Tobago.

“Right now we are in that deep listening phase and we want to do this well,” said Foster-Fulton. “The word repentance means ‘turn around’ so I would say that is going to be the vital work – an apology yes, but then how do we go in a different direction and make a positive impact? And I think the basis of that is always going to be listening to those most affected.”

MSP Liam McArthur recently won the right to introduce a Member’s Bill to the Scottish Parliament to permit assisted dying for terminally ill residents of Scotland and this year’s General Assembly also agreed to re-examine its opposition to the issue.

“It is such a complex, sensitive issue – it warrants deep reflection and consideration,” said Foster-Fulton.

She acknowledged that the recent raft of church closures and restructuring of presbyteries was also a sensitive issue.

“This is painful, absolutely,” she said. “I think any time you close a building or consider combining or making a change those decisions are difficult but we did that with the presbyteries and there was consultation and discussion at every level, so I think in that way we have done well.

“A lot of the places I’ve been to have said there is a sense of grief about losing a building but also a sense of energy because we’re able to channel our energy in different, more effective ways if we are not tied to all those buildings.

“From a global perspective, as well, and looking at our environmental footprint, utilising our buildings more effectively is a positive step environmentally and ethically.”

Recruitment of ministers is also a “challenge”, said Foster-Fulton.

“Again we are looking for creative ways we can unleash and maximise the gifts and skills of members of congregations”.

“We have been in discussions and conversations with other denominations about how we make sure we are serving our communities well and that’s going to take some creative thinking and that’s what this restructure is all about.”

Foster-Fulton added: “We’re making sure we’re fit for purpose so we can free ourselves to get on with the work we’re doing. We’re part of a global community and we have a part to play.

“We have a serious purpose and mission in Scotland and it’s not just about our voice in Scotland but about how we play our small part in something much bigger.”