Holiday in Scotland - Day 16 Shawbost and Stornoway Free Churches
In the morning we joined the Shawbost Free Church as invited. Our English service was in a very vcmfortable church hall while the Gaelic one was in the main church. We followed the usual Free Church custom of sitting to sing unaccompanied metric psalms the standing to pray. The Scottish 1850 Psalter was used so in Ps 22 we sang to be delivered from the horn of the unicorn, which in modern translation is a wild oxen. A visiting preacher gave a good word from Heb 1;1-3, especially good on, 'the joy set before him'. Our precentor was fine but one has to get used to letting him start each stanza on his own. If this was strange it was nothing compared to when we joined the Gaelic congregation for communion. Their precentor sings the whole first line then the people join in. It sounds to me like the singing of the Jews, and so it is. Someone else said it is like bagpipes but I would not be so unkind. I will settle for praise in a strange tongue. The church interior was impressive with three ministers on high about six foot up. Below them were two precentors on a raised platform, one precentor per language. The elders sat in a special pew around the pulpit with the deacons at the front sides. I fancy an elders' pew for IPC Ealing. After a Gaelic psalm finished the visiting minister began to fence the communion table. He did this in a three part address form Ps 27:5-6. It was most excellent, godly and moving talk, part before communion, part at the table and finally after communion. Very godly but I fear it had little to do with a proper exegesis of the text in its context.
The elders stood but we all sat for the minister's thanksgiving prayer. We remained seated as first the bread, cut white, was passed along each row followed swiftly by the cup which tasted to me like a decent port. Communion here is but twice a year and a solemn occasion. I forgot to say on being welcomed to the English service we were asked if we would be coming to the table and when we affirmed we were each given a Communion Token stamped, 'Shawbost Free Church 1890'. These had to be handed to an elder as we joined the Gaelic service. I wished I could have kept one as a reminder of Hebridean spirituality. After the service Alistair's uncle and aunt invited us to lunch. We even had a second lunch invitation from the wife of the minister. What a contrast to when over 25 years ago an American friend went to the very large Stornoway Free Church and no-one spoke to him after the service.uu
Lunch was excellent hospitality, rich lentil soup, ever so tender roast beef and Yorkshie pud followed by gateau with cream and ice cream. Conversation was stimulating with full and frank discussion on the forthcoming independence referendum.
We left in late afternoon to attend evening Free Church service in Stornoway. They have one way and pedestrian streets that fooled us two days running but on street parking is no problem. We had met the minister, Ivor Martin when he preached for us at IPC. The congregation was perhaps 200 to 300. More modern Psalms were also used as well as 1650 but here we stood to sing and sat to pray. Ivor's sermon on 2 Sam 6 was one of the best I have ever heard, on the presence of God, his holiness, joy in his presence and the danger of being a mere spectator of holy things. A great end to a memorable day.