An Ellon reverend has been spreading the word of God in an unusual way during the Covid lockdown as he has taken his sermons on the road.
Reverend Alastair Bruce of the Ellon Parish Church found a unique way to “engage” with members of his congregation once church buildings shut due to lockdown.
On each of his sermons, Mr Bruce takes viewers to the outdoors, speaking from various different locations across the north-east.
These include Collieston and the River Ythan.
In most of them, he utilises his surroundings to aid his storytelling.
The sermons have become a smash hit across the region, with viewers tuning in from South Africa, Australia, and even deepest, darkest Wales.
Mr Bruce was inspired to venture outdoors for his presentations after watching Reverend Martin Fair, the moderator of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly, do a similar thing.
‘A brilliant way to engage with people in the community’
Mr Bruce started his unique sermons last summer and plans to continue them until the churches reopen properly.
He said: “It started as I was thinking of what I could do differently to help engage people during lockdown, where they might be feeling isolated and cannot visit the church.
“We were forced to do things virtually, but I didn’t want to just do a sermon of me talking to the camera in my office or a piece to camera.
“I took inspiration from Martin Fair, who went viral doing the same, talking outdoors.
It just seemed like a very interesting and different idea if I filmed myself walking and talking, giving sermons.
“People love the countryside, and with people locked down and unable to go outside, I thought why not do them outside and see what the reaction is.
“Funnily enough, when I did some throughout Ellon, people who have lived here for a while didn’t know where I was, and I had some people asking me where I am, where have I been, it brought people together.”
One man band
Mr Bruce films the videos himself while out and about in the north-east, making use of his phone and easy-to-use equipment.
He uses his iPhone, his headphones, a small radio mic, and a tripod to record himself speaking.
Mr Bruce added: “It is easier because I can just go for a wee walk and everything is there for me to perform the sermon.
“I’ve got an app that is a teleprompter so I can read it from there and play through the sermon on the phone, it’s amazing what you can do.
“It’s just a simple set-up, nothing sophisticated at all.”
Mr Bruce goes to quieter parts of the town so that he does not disturb anyone but occasionally comes across people walking their dog.
He added: “Some people do give me slightly odd looks but the walking about can be used to build up relationships and our pastoral care.
“People do stop and ask what I am doing and are fascinated by it all.
‘Like watching Countryfile’
The 45-year-old has even branched out with his sermons, taking them to the likes of Slains Castle near Cruden Bay.
They have been described as like “Countryfile” by one of his friends.
Mr Bruce explained the reasoning behind choosing some of the best-known places as background to his sermons.
He said: “I did one about places that can mean a lot to people or things that help people feel closer to God.
“I did this on the Brig of Balgownie as a sort of illustration and the fact it is a historic landmark in Scotland, and when you are on it you can sense the history.
“These places can illustrate what I am talking about, and it allows me to compare the stories as well.
“My first one was when I was preaching about Jesus walking on water, and then Peter coming to him from a boat.
“I thought it would be funny if I walked into the middle of the Ythan, obviously not on water but just walk through it, just to engage folks.
“In the end, you couldn’t see it that well, and the river was a bit deeper than I thought it would be, so I only rolled up my trousers to d it.
“I gave it a bash, and they worked out well so now been doing it ever since.
“One of my friends described them as watching Countryfile, which is cheesy but it is a description I will take as it means it is coming across well.”
Church support over lockdown
Mr Bruce has been continuing these sermons almost every week, and they are broadcast every Sunday over Facebook and Youtube.
They draw in more than 100 viewers across both platforms, and many more on-demand.
The viewers include relatives of church-goers from South Africa and Australia, while people from a retreat centre in Wales also tune in after coming across them on Facebook.
The church also delivers DVDs of the sermon to those in the community who do not have access to them on social media.
Mr Bruce revealed that this formed part of the church’s plans to make sure people did not feel abandoned during the Covid pandemic.
Join Rev Alastair to pray
Posted by Ellon Parish Church on Sunday, May 16, 2021
He said: “People were isolated and anxious and needed to know that God and the church were there for them and this idea helped to engage and support folks.
“At the height of Covid we posted something on Facebook every day, live prayers, sermons.
“We have eased this slightly as restrictions eased, as it was needed less and allowed people to spend time with families and there is not quite as high a need.
“This allowed us to show that we had no abandoned people and offer them help and support.
“The Church has a message of hope and this is how we conveyed that.
“The feedback we have got so far is that it has really helped people and gave them an anchor to hold onto.
“The buildings were closed, but the church community is active.”