diamond geezer

 Sunday, June 18, 2006

Postcard from the Hebrides: Respect the Sabbath

I really shouldn't be writing this today. Sunday is the Lord's Day, a day of rest and worship, and most definitely not a day for indulging in ungodly pleasures such as shopping, travelling or blogging.

They take Sundays very seriously in the Outer Hebrides. The Presbyterian church and it's strict Bible-based teachings hold sway over the population, especially in the northern islands. Most villages are built around a large stone chapel, tall and unassuming with a single bell atop the roof, to which the locals flock each Sunday. Men in dark suits and wives in black hats drive cautiously to church for their weekly fix of praise and psalm-singing. Many of the services are conducted in Gaelic, and the pews are filled in numbers that churches on the mainland can only dream of.

The influence of the church on the island community is strong, especially on Sundays. All good Christians should be at home reading the scriptures or perhaps taking a meditative stroll along the beach, so virtually all local services shut down for the day. Shops are shut, none of the bus services run and it's impossible to buy petrol. The only alcohol being served is communion wine. And yes, this is serious Lord's Day observance, so even the use of children's playgrounds is discouraged on Sundays. A stern notice beside each entrance urges would-be frolickers to "Please respect the Sabbath" [photo], and if the gate can be physically padlocked all the better. Sometimes even the swings are chained up, allegedly, although I didn't see it myself.

But very gradually the special nature of the Hebridean Sabbath is slipping away. There are now a handful of flights in and out of the airport on a Sunday, and more recently a highly controversial sailing on the ferry between Harris and North Uist. Travellers and younger locals appreciate being able to get about the islands, but to many staunch Wee Frees this is just "another example of money-grabbing, culture-destroying commercialisation being imposed on the islands against the will of God". [I would link to the Free Presbyterian Church's website to tell you more, except it closes on a Sunday "in recognition of the Lord's day"]

Unusual though all this behaviour might seem, I guess it's nothing more than the typical British Sunday shutdown from several decades ago. Plan your visit to the Hebrides carefully and the enforced break is no hardship, although God help you if end up stranded without provisions, petrol or means of travel.


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