8 June 2024

Kirkwall: Branching out to Burray

Captains John and Rebecca Mitchinson

Three photos show scenes from Kirkwall Corps.

Captains John and Rebecca Mitchinson explain how the corps is going from strength to strength.

From concert to café church

As the corps officers at Kirkwall, we’re thrilled that Burray Café Church has been recognised as an outpost of the Army in Orkney. How it came to be is exciting and shows God’s leading in a spectacular way.

In December 2018, John was asked to speak at Burray Primary School’s Christmas concert and was struck by how friendly and welcoming the island people were. On his way home John felt God clearly say: ‘Kirkwall Salvation Army needs to do something in Burray.’ He came home and shared that and we sat with it for a while. Burray is a small island of only 400 people, so it didn’t seem to be a natural ‘target’ for new Salvation Army activity. We prayed that if it really was something God wanted us to do, he might give us some kind of confirmation.

Continued confirmation

That Sunday, adherent Alma Balfour was leading the prayer meeting and talked about the revival in Westray – another of the Orkney islands – in 1904. ‘And do you know where it all started?’ she asked. ‘Burray. Isn’t that amazing?’ John was stunned but we kept it to ourselves a bit longer.

A week or so later we were talking about Burray while getting ready to go to the home league. John asked: ‘How do you know if an idea comes from God, or if it’s just something you think would be a good thing to do?’ We headed to the hall and enjoyed the ministry of adherents Cyril and Eileen Unsworth. At one point, Cyril said: ‘Sometimes people wonder whether an idea they have comes from God or if it’s something they think would be a good idea. To those people, I say just do it!’

This was the confirmation we were waiting for! We felt strongly that this needed to be a corps outreach, rather than something the two of us did. After all, God had clearly said ‘Kirkwall Salvation Army needs to do something in Burray’, not ‘you need to do something in Burray’. After visiting the island’s community hall, the first of three summer café churches was scheduled for June 2019.

Heavenly help from Hawaii

A couple of weeks before it took place, the leader of Life Church Orkney spoke to us. Someone in Hawaii had contacted him a few years back, saying he had been led to pray for somewhere called Burray. He had discovered where it was, found the number for the Life Church leader and got in touch. The two of them had been praying for Burray ever since. Yet more confirmation!

Thirty-two people came to the first café church. Christians in Burray and the neighbouring island of South Ronaldsay supported the venture and had been praying for Burray to have its own church for years. Even more people attended the café churches in July and August that year and a Christmas café church took place just before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

Hungry for him

A café church in June 2022 showed there was still an appetite and the then territorial leaders, Commissioners Anthony and Gill Cotterill, came to speak at the August café church as part of their North Scotland Summer Campaign. There was a very real sense that God was still in it. One-off events continued and, from March 2023, Burray Café Church has happened monthly.

We were delighted to have divisional leaders Major Gillian Jackson and Major Steve Dutfield join us recently for Burray Café Church to be officially recognised as an outpost with us installed as the leaders.

It’s a vibrant expression of the Army and it’s going from strength to strength, with new people coming along each month. We were thrilled to have almost 60 people attend as we enrolled the first two soldiers at the outpost. We look forward to what God will do in the days ahead.

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