The Kirk’s Angus-based Moderator has spoken of his “year like no other” since taking up the role in May.
Rev Dr Martin Fair, who has also served as the minister at St Andrew’s Parish Church in Arbroath since 1992, should have been travelling the world as the Church of Scotland’s ambassador at home and abroad.
But he’s been more at risk of Zoom fatigue than jet lag after virtually all his travel plans were scrapped.
Dr Fair is the first Moderator ever to have been called while serving an Arbroath congregation since the founding of the Church of Scotland in 1560 and the first Moderator since 1689 to have seen the General Assembly cancelled.
He has been sharing his memories of Christmas past following a year which has brought unprecedented challenges both for people and society.
Dr Fair said: “Going back to childhood it was always a very family-orientated Christmas.
“For some family members this was the only time of the year you saw them because of the distance.
“I have very happy memories of getting up at 5am on Christmas morning and waking up my parents to see what Santa had brought.
“I remember one year my grandpa took the whole family out to a posh Glasgow hotel but back then, as a wee boy, I was a terribly fussy eater and the only thing I would eat was beans on toast.
“So sure enough, while the family was enjoying a slap-up meal, I was tucking in to a plate of beans!
“But every other year we ate at home, but not till after 3pm.
“My dad was very strict about that.
“We couldn’t begin the dinner until we’d listened to The Queen’s message!
“There was simplicity about Christmas then and you got a few presents and were delighted with what you got but in the years since it has got considerably more commercial and that’s sad in some ways.
“As a wee boy I would play for hours with toy soldiers and Christmas was complete if I got some new figures or a tank or similar to add to my collection.
“For me, as a minister, Christmas is always the highlight of my year, and the Christmas Eve services in Arbroath were always very special.
“We used to do an early evening one with children and families where the kids would come in their pyjamas and they hold very happy memories.”
Year like no other
Dr Fair, who was ordained and inducted into St Andrew’s Parish Church in 1992, trained at the Faculty of Divinity at Glasgow University, then had a two-year appointment with the Church of Scotland congregation in Bermuda.
Upon his return to Scotland, he fulfilled a six-month contract as associate minister at St Mary’s Church in Dundee before taking up the Arbroath post.
“It has been a Moderator year like no other,” he said.
“There’s no getting away from that.
“Usually it is very much an ambassadorial role and extensive travel with one gathering, one meeting and one event after another.
“I’ve had virtually none and all the travel plans were curtailed.
“Everything that should have happened was either cancelled or transferred to Zoom.
“For example I’ve had meetings with the Prime Minister, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi which should have taken in person at places like 10 Downing Street but instead have taken place on Zoom.
“So it’s been a case of having to engage with people in a different way.
“But you just have to get on with it because we are all in the same boat.”
Dr Fair said the church has been very creative during lockdown to stream services straight to peoples’ homes via the internet.
He said: “Some churches have been doing this for many years but the vast majority were starting almost from scratch.
“But pretty quickly they got up to speed and 95% of churches have now got online engagement and the vast majority are back worshipping, even in a restricted way.
“So we have been hanging in there and trying to find a road through this and we have to go into 2021 with a degree of optimism.
“Embracing things like technology were all things that needed to be done to allow the church to keep moving forward and all the pandemic has done is accelerate this.
“Very early in lockdown someone said to me we’ve advanced 10 years in 10 weeks and there’s a lot of truth in that.
“The key when we get back to normality is not to give up that digital footprint because that’s going to be an essential part of our life as we go forward and many ministers are actually thriving and enjoying the creativity of working online.”
He also spoke about the remarkable way ordinary people have stepped up to the mark during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We saw great community spirit emerging during lockdown and we don’t want to lose it,” he said.
“Of course, as we move into 2021 we’re all hopeful that life is going to get better and the challenges easier but it’s absolutely right that we don’t move on without properly acknowledging what, together, we’ve been through.”
Dr Fair has been inviting people to send a sprig of rosemary, to represent their own personal experience of 2020.
These sprigs are being incorporated into a giant rosemary wreath, a symbol of the nation’s lament for a sorrow-filled year.
The art installation, called ‘Scented Lament’, which will be 5ft 9inches in diameter, will be created by Rev Peter Gardner and Heidi Gardner.
A television programme on the installation will also be broadcast on BBC Scotland on New Year’s Day which will be presented by Dr Fair.