Partnerships between Church of Scotland congregations and churches in different parts of the world can have an “extensive and beneficial impact on the community”, says a new study.
Research commissioned by the Presbyterian denomination's Panel on Review and Reform claims that the lives of people on both sides of the link can be significantly changed, most notably for younger generations, and this has a positive knock-on effect for their local area.
It suggests the benefits are particularly pertinent for those who have visited an overseas partner, or who interacted with international visitors whilst they were in Scotland.
Researchers found 162 worldwide partnerships between Scottish congregations and other countries, 47 of which are within Malawi.
Findings are contained in the Panel’s report to the General Assembly, which urges congregations to establish a world church partnership with another congregation or project relevant to their situation.
The research suggests that such partnerships can often provide participants with a new and changed perspective on life.
It says that concerns at home or in the church are seen in different terms and in a broader context, and problems that seemed huge become less important.
Consequently, people no longer see the social habits and culture in Scotland as being 'just the way things are', but as factors that can be challenged and changed.
The research also highlights a number of spiritual benefits, including strengthening the faith of a congregation, encouraging the helping of others in need, and learning more about the diversity of Christianity and how it is practised throughout the world.
The Kirk's report also offers suggestions on how to establish and strengthen partnerships, including updating communication skills and finding solutions to communication problems in developing countries.
Among the recommendations are plans for a 'mentor' system so that representatives from more experienced partnerships can mentor new recruits, and a yearly conference and online presence for Scottish partnership churches.
A wide range of churches across Britain, including the Free Churches and a growing number of independent and Black churches, have strong cross-congregational and international links, many nurtured over a number of years. The Church of England has diocesan twinning arrangements.
Many of these relationships have been questioned or made financially difficult by the funding crises or shortfalls within the denomonations, but there is also enthusiastic support for them in sections of the churches - who will be encouraged by this new Church of Scotland report.
The Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church are the largest Christian denominations in Scotland.