Council / SIC to respond to equality concerns over church proposal for ex-school building

New Life Shetland pastor says ‘we believe that the good news of Jesus Christ is for all people regardless of background, sexuality, race or religion’

Peter Hamilton (left) with Kerrie Meyer after meeting with council leadership in October. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

CONCERN has been raised by local equality and LGBT campaigners about the prospect of a church taking on a Shetland Islands Council-owned building at the former Anderson High School.

Peter Hamilton and Kerrie Meyer met with council convener Andrea Manson and leader Emma Macdonald at Lerwick Town Hall on Wednesday to discuss New Life Shetland’s proposed takeover of the old science block.

New Life Shetland pastor John Rollo said in response that the Christian church was not invited to the meeting and added: “We believe that the good news of Jesus Christ is for all people regardless of background, sexuality, race or religion and all are welcome at all our services.”

Speaking after the meeting, Hamilton said he was calling on the building to instead be taken on by the Zetland Educational Trust, with funding from Shetland Charitable Trust.

Meanwhile Meyer – who organised this summer’s Shetland Pride festival – said she was “gravely concerned” by the proposed move.


On Thursday Hamilton said a level two complaint has been initiated by the council to be conducted by a member of the SICs legal team.

New Life Shetland has been in lengthy talks to take on the science block at the former school site – which will be redeveloped over the coming years – as part of a community asset transfer.

The proposed cost is a nominal £1, but the church said back in 2019 that the fees relating to the transfer could rise to around £25,000,

The proposed use of the empty building is a place of worship, as well as a community hub with café facilities, counselling rooms and soft play for children.

Planning permission for the change of use has not yet been granted, with councillors decided to defer the decision until more details emerged over parking.

But Hamilton and Meyer have raised concern over the church’s alleged stance on homosexuality, marriage and sexual identity.

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The science building at the old Anderson High School. Photo: Shetland News

New Life Shetland, which meets every weekend at the Sandveien Neighbourhood Centre in Lerwick and is seeking to expand, is part of Assemblies of God Great Britain – a “Pentecostal movement” which involves more than 500 churches across the country.

Hamilton and Meyer have pointed to the beliefs of the US Assemblies of God, which they claim says non-heterosexual marriage “undermines family life whilst homosexual sex is shameful, sinful and will take you to hell”.

In a 2019 submission to Shetland Islands Council regarding the science block proposal New Life Shetland said: “We believe in marriage as defined in the Bible as a covenant, a sacred lifelong bond between one man and one woman, instituted by and publicly entered into before God and is the only proper context for sexual relations.”


Rollo stressed that New Life Shetland was not part of the US Assemblies of God and instead is a congregation within the British version and is a Scottish charity.

He added that “our teaching from our services for the past two and a half years are available online”.

The local New Life church says it seeks to work with the community to improve the lives of people in Shetland and “already provides a full and active programme for a wide age range and supports people from all different social backgrounds”.

After meeting with the council leadership Hamilton said: “Shetland Islands Council is about to give away the old science block at the Anderson High for a pound.

“I’m sure Shetland Charitable Trust could stretch to £1.50. There’s a reason they haven’t – they don’t engage with young people in Shetland, even though they ought to, as members of the Shetland Partnership.


“I have asked the convener today to reactivate Zetland Educational Trust, get it funded by Shetland Charitable Trust, and give it that building.”

After receiving applications earlier this year, the educational trust is currently closed to new applications until it reopens in early 2023.

Meanwhile Meyer said: “I feel distinctly uncomfortable that in 2022, with ever-increasing incidents of homophobia, transphobia, bigotry and hate crime against the LGBTQ+ community in the UK, here in Shetland, which so recently enjoyed its first Shetland Pride Festival, bigoted ideology is apparently being warmly welcomed.

“The New Life Church, which currently meet at the Sandveien Neighbourhood Centre, apparently supports the views and teachings of the Assemblies of God (USA) which clearly discriminates and promotes a doctrine against LGBTQ+ people.


“It worries me this church’s anti-LGBTQ teaching could influence the children and young people they seek to involve in their activities to develop homophobic and transphobic views.”

Hamilton said he had concerns about the process of the asset transfer.

Redevelopment of the Knab site is a key part of the SIC’s plan to tackle a housing shortage in the isles.

“The building this small group wants to acquire so cheaply is sizeable, versatile and was designed to be used for public benefit. It was built with public money, is located on public land which was gifted to the whole community by Shetland philanthropist Arthur Anderson,” he said.

“The SIC’s community asset transfer policy obliges the council to ‘protect the public interest and maximise community benefit’. 


“You can’t maximise community benefit without some member of the Shetland Partnership properly engaging with marginalised Shetlanders, including young people.”

The pair also expressed concern about the Scottish law requiring religious representatives being appointed to council education committees. Last month New Life Shetland pastor John Rollo was appointed to a vacant seat on the SIC’s education and families committee.

But there was repeated concern from councillors over the legal requirement.

Councillors make religious appointment ‘not because we want to, because we are required to’

Speaking on Wednesday afternoon Shetland Islands Council chief executive Maggie Sandison said: “Concerns have been raised about some aspects of the proposed community asset transfer of the science block at the site of the former Anderson High School.

“Correspondence has been received and we will respond to the authors of the correspondence in due course.”

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