The Church of Scotland has appointed its first ever dedicated minister for the veterinary community.
Rev Allan Wright, who is based in Newcastle and a vet himself, will carry out pastoral support duties and visit all vet practices within 30 minutes of Newcastle.
“It's about being available and being present, with vets with nurses, receptionists practice managers, all those people who work in veterinary surgeries and our belt in the North, working with and as vets just letting them know that there is a caring and loving Christian ministry before them,” Rev Allan told Premier.
The 33-year-old brought a proposal for a dedicated vet minister before the Church of Scotland after seeing and experiencing a real need in the veterinary community. Mental health issues, isolation and staff shortages are among some of the issues Rev Allan observed.
“There's a whole lot of isolation, people tend to work very much, by themselves, or in very small teams… People move away from home and suddenly, they're stuck in a new role, which is a fairly intensive role with no option to go and meet other people.
“There's huge numbers of mental health problems,” Rev Allan said. “We know, for example, that vets are four times more likely to commit suicide than your average member of the population. And so, there's huge issues there that need some form of addressing.”
The coronavirus pandemic and Brexit have amplified some of these issues. Increased paperwork for sending animals and animal products abroad and a shortage of foreign vets have led to some farm animals having to be slaughtered because they can’t be sent to abattoirs, Rev Allan explained.
“It costs more money to keep them on farm than it is to get rid of them and that’s a huge strain not only on farmers, but also on the vets that are looking after these animals as well,” Rev Allan explained.
Together with his wife, Rev Allan opened a vet practice 18 months ago in Birtley and will continue working as vet.
“It's just been these two parts of my life that have up to now run simultaneously. And, and of course, there are crossovers, there's so much pastoral care…and then there's so much from the beginning of the church side about looking after creation and the importance of value in animal life. It’s now wonderful to take both of them and run them as one thing.”
The father of two hopes to be a “supportive ear” for the community and encourage Christians to pray for the veterinary community.
“[This] is completely new for everybody. And that's just slightly scary and slightly daunting, because we don't know where this ministry is going to be in six months…ten years, down the line. Just pray that the veterinary community opens their hearts to having a new support structure in place, and that the church is full of recognition that this is a place that the church needs to go into.”