Christian Life 

Sunday Sailings to Lewis

A way of life which has been preserved in the face of 24/7 trends is under threat (again); it is a typical battle of tradition and culture and religious views coming up against the pressures of the 21st-century world.
Major-General Douglas Wimberley, Colonel of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, commanded the famous 51st Highland Division from 1941 to 1943.
Speaking as Chairman of the Annual Piping Competition of the Uist and Barra Association on February 16, 1957, General Wimberley, in a reference to the establishment of the guided missile range in the Uist Islands, said that:

these Islands were the acknowledged last stronghold of all that was best in Gaelic culture, and it would require all the Islanders' resolution to hold on very lightly to their culture, their Gaelic, their Highland ways and their ceilidhs in the days that lay ahead.

(What follows has been written for an audience which is much wider than the North-West Scotland.)

CalmacA FIERCE BATTLE for and against Sunday sailings presently being fought on the Hebrides (see map at foot of this article) is reminiscent of a similar campaign many years ago over ferry links between the Scottish mainland and the Isle of Skye. At that time a certain West Highland clergyman was dubbed ‘The Ferry Reverend’ by the media when he reportedly lay down on a slipway in an attempt to prevent Sunday ferry sailings between (mainland) Kyle and Klyeakin on the south end of Skye. The minister’s best efforts proved unsuccessful, and were ultimately and completely subverted by the building of the Skye Bridge which now crosses the water on which the ferries once sailed. (The main matter of contention following the construction of the road crossing centred on a subsequent campaign for the – eventually successful – removal of the toll charges which were initially imposed.)

Now a similar controversy has broken out over proposals by main ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) to introduce a 7-day service to Stornoway (the island capital). And this move is a response – the operator states – to both public demand and commercial and economic imperatives. However ‘public demand’ is very much divided over the issue as a very substantial proportion of the Western Isles population is strongly and vociferously opposed – on theological and/or sociological grounds – to such a prospect. ‘We appreciate our way of life and a bit of peace and quiet one day in seven.’

Most recently the dispute has prompted the resignation of a senior Western-Isles councillor who strongly supports Sunday sailings. Donald John Macsween has quit his post as vice-chairman of transportation as he could not support his Council's (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar) policy opposing seven-day sailings. (Macsween intends to stand for the Labour party at the next general election against the incumbent Scottish National Party MP Angus MacNeil. The Member of the Scottish Parliament for the area is Alasdair Allan.)



For those who might be unfamiliar with the north-west of Scotland, the Hebrides is a chain of islands lying around 30 miles off the mainland coast; the archipelago extends over a distance of around 120 miles in roughly a NE/SW direction. The islands are separated from the mainland by a (sometimes fierce) stretch of water called ‘the Minch’. In a westward direction the next stop is North America. Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis is by far the biggest settlement with a population of around 6000 people - representing around 30% of the total population; the remainder of the total of around 26,000 are scattered throughout over 280 townships and settlements. On large tracts of land there can be more sheep than people. Stornoway is the only population centre that could be described as ‘urban’. The capital is the main shipping port and airport. (Smaller harbours and airports serve the other islands and range, respectivelhy, from substantial car-ferry terminals to slipways for small boats; and from runways for larger aircraft to a beach which serves as a landing spot at low tide.)

Topography and lifestyle


StornowayThe Hebridean features can change dramatically – and over very short distances – from soaring and majestic mountains to tree-less and barren marshlands and peat bogs. There are beautiful sandy beaches within short distances of inhospitable and rocky moonscapes. A rugged coastline exposed to a mighty Atlantic storm can – with rapidly-changing weather – be transformed within hours to a calm and beautiful serenity which soothes the soul. Modern life in Stornoway dissolves into remote settings which have a changed little over hundreds of years. Modern bungalows sit alongside the ruined croft houses of earlier generations; and the pressing calls of the modern workaday world take second place to the seasonal demands of lambing and shearing and peat-cutting and fishing and crofting (a croft is much more than an allotment but less than a farm). Ceilidh’s (informal parties and social gatherings) can be found in local hotels, village halls and in homes. And work (and leisure) patterns are conditioned more by season, weather, tide, caring for sheep and church and pub opening times than by the position of the hands of the clock.

Cultural, social and ideological affiliations


Many years ago a young man from the East coast headed for a spell of detached duty working in a west-coast township. The advice he was given was that he would have to decide on whether to become a member of the church or the pub. Religion or alcohol was the choice on offer and by and large this socio-religious demarcation line serves as a convenient shibboleth which runs like a fault-line through the communities. Although it serves as a very significant divide it is countered by the effects of geography, climate, culture and the widely-spoken Gaelic language which enforce a shared set of values within the social milieu. Peat (fossil-fuel) which require to be ‘cut’ (dug out) and sheep that need to be lambed and sheared do not pay too much attention to which day of the week it is or whether or not the crofter spends his discretionary time in a place of worship or the local hostelry.

HarrisParadoxically (and this anecdote captures some of the love/hate relationship that many have with one of Scotland’s principal exports) a senior Reformed minister from the mainland was once invited to officiate at an island church sacrament being conducted by an ultra-conservative denomination. (These periodic ‘communion seasons’ are held in extremely high regard and last for 3-4 days.) When shown into the guest bedroom in the manse/residence of the host minister, the visiting clergyman was interested (certainly) and surprised (probably), but not shocked (necessarily) to be greeted by a full bottle of whisky and crystal glass adorning the bedside table. After all….he was in the Western Isles. Nowadays ‘en-suite’ refers mainly to washing facilities rather then the ready availability of a ‘nightcap’ (a late-evening libation).

Religious diversity


PeatThere is a quite remarkable divergence of religious affiliation across the string of islands. The north is staunchly Protestant whereas there is a marked crossover half way down the chain whereby the southern-most parts are strongly Roman Catholic. In the north, a clergyman would be de-frocked for playing football (or any other sport) on a Sunday whereas in the (Catholic) south the priest might be seen as letting the side down if he didn’t support the local team on a Sunday contest. (It is rare, paradoxical and quixotic even to evidence two adjacent and very religious communities so amicably spanning the Reformation divide which otherwise tore whole continents apart.) The reformed and conservative north have apparently long-forgiven the (rather more free-wheeling) Catholic south for assisting Catholic ‘Pretender’ Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape from the British Isles



Regarding external influences on the Hebridean way of life these have increased dramatically over the latter half of the 20th century. Until well after the 2nd World War, the Hebrides – because of the geographic isolation, inclement weather, and poor and often-unreliable transport links (everything had to come in by sea or air) the communities were fairly isolated regarding national trends, traits and fashions which flooded into Western societies in the 60s/70s. If mini-skirts (remember them?) ever did reach the Hebridean shops, the strict codes of modesty (and chastity) would have required a considerable degree of courage on the part of any mini-skirt wearer to appear in a public (or even in private) in scanty apparel. Even in the latter part of the 20th century the relative isolation and the intimacy of small communities meant that drugs took that bit longer to arrive in any significant quantities. And the local grapevine would quickly identify any ‘user’.

Whisky and Rockets Galore

As an interesting ‘aside’ the Hebrides were the settings for two well-known screen productions in the post-war years; and this has been augmented by a more recent film about rocket technology

Whisky GaloreThe film ‘Whisky Galore’ captured a war-time incident when the lack of the alcoholic spirit was remedied by a freighter, bound for America, but sinking with its cargo of Uisge Beatha (Water of Life) just off one off the small island of Eriskay. The locals (island residents) got to the precious cargo before the men from the Customs an Excise, and considerable ingenuity was brought to bear to conceal the salvaged liquor from the plundered wreck from His Majesty’s officers.

RocketHowever even earlier in the years prior to WW2 a German rocket scientist conducted an experiment on the Isle of Scarp (off Harris) in an attempt to send mail by rocket. Gerhard Zucher’s efforts failed and he was ‘re-patriated’ to East Germany when the war broke out, but the episode was captured in a film Rocket Post (released 2006) which carried great shots of the coastal scenery around Harris.

Later, as the development of rocket technology was trialled in the 60s an army base was built on one of the main islands in the southern group to house the Royal Artillery personnel who test-fired their anti-aircraft munitions into the watery Atlantic wastes – secure in the knowledge that the casualties of any explosive mishap would be confined to that of a local rabbit or seagull.) However, the future of the missile-testing programme on the Uists is currently under threat; and the loss of jobs would be significant if the army withdraws.

To quote the Bob Dylan lyric: ‘The times they are a-changing’.

In terms of the population, easier access and modern facilities have attracted ‘incomers’ to take up residence in the Hebrides. And those who have come from other parts can be both unaware and unconcerned about local customs, and what is and isn’t allowable behaviour. So with the rest of the world moving towards a 24/7 society and life-style the pressures to renounce Sunday prohibitions have increased. And given that a substantial section of the indigenous population want to be able to shop and play sport on Sundays so we find a significant movement for change.

Added to all of this there are factors relating to livelihood and income generation. Given that a significant slice of the fragile economy depends on tourism, there is a strong economic case (some argue) to cater for those holiday visitors who are more concerned to have easy access to shops and public transport every day of the week than they are to conform to local traditions.

A Big Domino – and everyone knows it


DominosThe situation is a ‘big domino’ for a way of life that has fought to preserve the traditions of centuries.  What is a stake is a whole way of life. And with all such weighty matters the politicians are brought into the fray.
Whilst the politicians (Scottish and Westminster) who represent the islanders have been and continue to be pressed for their respective views, these men are obviously very aware of the spread and depth of division amongst their supporters, and continue to be extremely reticent in their publicly-expressed views. This ambivalence demonstrated by the incumbent party-politicians has – in the context of the above dispute – prompted, or at least strengthened the call for a future political candidate to stand as an independent at the next (UK) general election.

The Hebrides, in contrast to the Highland mainland, has historically been ‘party political’ rather than independent and non-aligned. However the advantage of having the backing of one mainstream party or another has never been divorced from the status of the local candidate(s). In recent history the vote – in party terms – has swung between Labour and Scottish Nationalist. (These parties respectively reflect the general ‘socialist-but-separate’ component of the islands’ corporate identity.)
At the last Scottish elections (in 2007 and for the Scottish Parliament) the fledgling Scottish Christian Party fielded a popular and respected candidate for the Highlands and Islands constituency (which included the Hebrides).

A local Christian in the process...

murdomurrayMurdo Murray is a former Technical Director for the Hebridean local authority and lives and works on the islands. He is a committed Christian and would, in this regard, be expected to fight to ‘keep Sunday special’ (as a UK-wide campaign became known). Needless to say anyone standing on this ticket would have the strongest support from the very active Lord’s Day Observance Society.
In speaking to Christians Together, Murray observed that the supporters of Sunday sailings are using the ‘human rights’ arguments which in turn have been taken up by the ferry company in support of the case. He asks: 'Why the clamour for 7-day sailings from Lewis when the elected representatives in the local authority have been asking for a late Saturday-night sailing which has never been granted.'The company should be more responsive to issues that are raised by elected representatives rather than raising issues that are creating division.'

Working now as a private consultant, the Lewisman outlined some important points from socio-political and economic perspectives which tend to undermine the ferry company's case.
But illustrating that he is not entrenched in his views he pointed out that whilst serving with the Council, he was responsible for implementing the transport policy which introduced Sunday sailings to the Uists (which make up the southern half of the string of islands). When asked how the churches responded on that occasion Murray responded: ‘I don’t think the LDOS were too perturbed about it because that was what the community wanted.’  And ‘mercy’ sailings on humanitarian or medical grounds have always been permitted throughout.

Over the years Murray has himself pressed CalMac to introduce later Saturday-evening sailings which would allow returning islanders longer on the mainland to participate in family gatherings and social or sporting events.  However Murray feels that the publicly-owned transport company has resisted these calls as to respond would have weakened the organisation’s case for Sunday sailings.
Although CalMac are endeavouring to support their intentions using 'human rights' legislation, the LDOS have also taken legal advice which rejects the company's claim.

The debate continues…..feel free to join in

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Christians Together, 16/06/2009

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Eddie Hallahan 25/06/2009 16:59
With regards to question 2 above. I feel that there is definitely a section of the church that feels they are called to be god's police in imposing strict lists of dos and donts. That said there is also a sizeable and growing section of the church that is realising we are supposed to introduce people to God and the best way of doing that is by demonstrating the fact that we have a relationship with a living God. A relationship that helps us transcend our own weaknesses and desires and instead become more like Him.

How do we demonstrate this? By engaging with people where they are rather than trying to impose a set of outdated traditions of man onto them and try and make them conform to OUR idea of what a Christian should be.

When people have a good relationship with God they will quite happily spend their Sundays in church, of their own free will - they won't need to be browbeaten into it.

Every day is the Lord's day.
Peter Carr 25/06/2009 17:55
Amen! True Christianity is about relationship not religion. The problem is that when we either fail to grasp this, or worst still lose sight of it then churchianity and religiosity take over, then the world has a field day!!
Murdo A Murray 26/06/2009 01:15
In relation to Question 1 I believe that the best way of getting the message about the 4th Commandment across is in the proclamation of the whole counsel of God - the preaching of the Word of God accompanied with the fervent prayers of God's people that God would bless us with an outpouring of His Holy Spirit.We should use every means at our disposal in this high tech modern world to bring the Word of God to bear on every echelon of our society. God's Word makes it clear that whilst every day is the Lord's every day is not the Lord's Day. As Dr Peter Masters has said "God's reserving of one day out of every seven is a creation decree, and also one of the ten commandments,which are abiding moral law, written by the finger of God."

Dr Masters also makes reference to Calvin's "Sermons on the Ten Commandments(Deuteronomy 5:12-14)where Calvin says:-
"If we turn Sunday into a day for living it up, for our sport and pleasure, indeed how will God be honoured in that? Is it not a mockery and a profanation of his Name.But when shops are closed on Sunday, when people do not travel in the usual way,its purpose is to provide more leisure and liberty for attending to what God commands us.
"We no longer have this figure and shadow (the Jewish sabbath) for the purpose of keeping a ceremony as rigid as it was under the bondage of the law. Rather its purpose is to gather us in order that..we might be trained to devote ourselves better to the service of God, that we might have this day fully dedicated to him, to the end that we might be withdrawn from the world."
"We do not keep the day which was commanded to the Jews. For that was Saturday. But in order to demonstrate the liberty of Christians (from the Jewish order) the day has been changed, seeing that Jesus Christ in his resurrection has delivered us from all bondage to the law."
The Lord's Day -"exists for the purpose of enabling us to set aside our affairs and earthly business in order that, abstaining from everything else, we might meditate on the works of God, and be trained to recognise the favours which God bestows on us..And when we have spent Sunday in praising and glorifying the Name of God and in meditating on his works, then, throughout the rest of the week, we should show that we have benefited from it"
(Dr Peter Masters is Minister of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in Central London)

In relation to Question 2 I believe that the Bible does indicate to all of us God's patterns for living which were first given in the moral law which is summarised in the ten Commandments and the sum of which is also given by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40 as "To love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbour as ourselves."

I would want to uphold and defend God's pattern but I do not see that the Church should be "God's policeman"- God does not need us to be His Policeman. As He demonstrated with Israel of old God is a covenant keeping God and when Israel turned away by disobeying His commandments God took away His Blessing as indicated in Deuteronomy 30;15-20.
The church is also in a covenant relationship with God and we too are asked to obey His commandments and thereby choose life and blessing.
Even a casual glance at the state of the church and our nation shows that we are not obeying God's commandments.

Having said that I do not believe that Christians can achieve God's purposes by religiosity - we can never force others to become Christians. We can show them what God has done for us and pray that our witness will lead them to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ for themselves through the power of the Holy Spirit working in their hearts. We always need to remember that the gospel is more important than language or culture or ferries and that what we need above everything else today is an outpouring of God's Spirit to make a willing people in a day of His Power.If this was come we might have such a sense of the Majesty and Holiness of God that the question of Sunday sailings would no longer be an issue.
Peter Carr 26/06/2009 08:22
"If this was come we might have such a sense of the Majesty and Holiness of God that the question of Sunday sailings would no longer be an issue."

Then this maybe where the focus should be instead of on issues that are better left in the secular realm as God had intended! Rom 13: 1 - 2.

I have no problems with Christians in politics, but I do believe that we have to seek God's wisdom to know which battles are worth fighting, and which are better left to those who don't have the mind of Christ.

With so many crucial moral issues at stake in our land, is this really a God honouring battle?
John Parker (Guest) 26/06/2009 09:06
We are living in a time whereby we have cast off God and 'every man does what is right in his own eyes'.

The results of this are all too obvious. While 20 years ago to say that - as a nation - we were under judgement would have invited howls of scorn and anger (even from some church leaders).

However today it would be both brave and foolish to say that there is not a devastation in our land through us having departed from the ways of God.

The Gospel is THE message indeed, and part of the whole Gospel is to declare the whole counsel of God - even though it is not politically correct, even if it does not sit well with the prevailing culture. (In fact we should be amazed and very worried if it did, because the prevailing culture is a mixture of secular humanism and multi-faith admixture; so we should expect hostility - even extreme hostility.)

I don't know if 'legalism' is part of the situation in these parts or not, but I rejoice to hear Mr. Murray so clearly state his beliefs - in a world of duplicity and spin it is a rare quality indeed.

And we need to pray for such men - they will have the pagan world and the liberal church coming against them.
Eddie Hallahan 26/06/2009 13:40
I disagree with Murdo over much of his above post, but while he is free to post here regarding the Sabbath/Sunday/Lord's day etc. I alas cannot respond.
Editor 26/06/2009 15:31
The reasons that I set up a Debate thread to discuss which (if any) 24hr period is Shabbat/Sabbath/Sunday are -
(a) to prevent this (above) discussion becoming bogged down on that issue and
(b) to provide a forum where it could be adequately discussed (by those who wish to discuss it).

The article (this one) on the Sunday sailings is a much broader topic of how Christians engage in a the social, economic, cultural and political environment.

Thank you for your co-operation.
Editor 26/06/2009 15:34

You stood in 2007 as a candidate for the Scottish Christian Party. And that is one policitcal option (i.e. a Christian party).

Do you think that there might be a place for Christians standing as independents? And what do you feel the pros and cons are?
Murdo A Murray 27/06/2009 01:22
I stood for the Highlands and Islands List for the Scottish Christian Party in 2007 and I have no regrets at doing so as both my wife and I felt that it was what the Lord wanted for us at that time.

At a personal level I feel that it broadened my horizons and brought me into contact with many other Christians from different persuasions right across the Highlands and Islands area and beyond.We had an enthusiastic group of Pentecostal Christians from London with us in Stornoway and we all benefited from the fellowship.

I had a lot of memorable experiences and particularly as Rev George Hargreaves and I campaigned around the Region.We spent a fruitful week-end with Christian friends in Kirkwall and Westray whilst in Orkney and then flew to Shetland on the Monday.We had no idea where we would be staying or how we would be travelling when we got there. George knew someone in London who had a brother-in-law in Shetland and it was hoped that he would help us. More importantly it was committed to the Lord in prayer and our expectations were exceedingly and abundantly more than met.The Lord provided for us through people we had never known but came to know and respect in the bonds of Love in Christ.

When we were at the airport in Sumburgh on the way back to Glasgow a lovely seasoned Christian came and asked me what my name was. He said that his name was Peter Duncan from Peterhead and he had come to Shetland expecting to pick up a vessel which was due to have come from the Continent.The vessel had not arrived and he was heading back by plane to the mainland.He had been a fisherman and in his youth had been to Stornoway at the time of the herring drifters.
He wanted my name so that he could pray for me as he felt there was a reason why he had to make the seemingly fruitless trip from Peterhead to Shetland. I was humbled to meet such a gracious and godly man and at the Sovereign purposes of God which bring people together in the most unlikely of circumstances.

So yes I stood for the SCP in 2007 and I am still a member of the SCP and I hope that the Party will mature into a force for good with a track record of solid work between elections and not just,as it appears to many at the moment,a vehicle for elections.

On the issue of Christians standing as independents I think the current situation in Westminster will mean that this option will be given much more serious thought.

On the negative side I would indicate the following:-
1.The independent would not have the backing of the Party machinery to fight an election.
2.Policy formulation will not be done for you.
3.It is a lonely furrow to plough on your own.
4.If you did succeed you wouldn't have the comfort of Party support with any motion.

On the positive side there is at least the following:-
1.You will not be dictated to by any Party in terms of your policies
2.You will have the freedom to cultivate cross party associations on issues of mutual benefit.
3.The electorate can have a clearer understanding of who they are voting for.
4.The Christian is never alone - there is an unseen host,and The Lord who has said "I will never leave you nor forsake you".
5.If you did succeed you would be free to pursue an agenda for your constituency through prayer and co-operation which would be most difficult for someone with Party shackles.

I can recall after the 2007 election a Highland Broadcaster saying to me " You would be better standing on your own agenda-we know what you stand for but we are less clear about the Party."

In summary I think the particular situation with the Westminster Parliament does provide an opportunity for an independent candidate particularly given that the current predictions are that the next administration is likely to be Conservative and in which case the benefit of having either an SNP or Labour representative for the Western Isles is less appealing.
Editor 27/06/2009 09:24
Thanks Murdo. That's helpful. And will get back to you (and others might also) regarding some of the points you have made.

[Just as an 'Admin' note: there are (at least) two SCP discussion threads running on this site for those wishing to discuss the SCP situation in Scotland. One of the threads is accessible to all site visitors. Another is in the 'politics' section which site members need to sign up to (if they wish).]
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Christians Together in the Highlands and Islands > Christian Life > Sunday Sailings to Lewis