Scottish island’s sacred Sunday under threat

Author: By Ben McConville, Associated Press

Residents on the Isle of Lewis who keep a strict Sabbath ? no television, no
housework, no shopping ? are angry that the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry
company is to start running services between Stornoway, the island’s
capital, and Ullapool on the Scottish mainland.

The company, known as CalMac, says it has no choice because not to run the
service would potentially put it in breach of European laws on equality.
Presbyterian residents on the predominantly Gaelic-speaking island say the
service is threatening both their faith and their lifestyle.

“This is an affront to the wishes and religious beliefs of the people of the
island and CalMac has run roughshod over us,” said John Roberts, spokesman
for the Lord’s Day Observance Society.

“The Sunday ferry service is a direct threat to this way of life which stands
for Christian beliefs, the Bible and the word of God. We’ll end up with
Sundays like they are in the rest of the UK or the US where it is just, go
to church on Sunday morning and the rest of the day is yours.”

That’s not what Sundays on the island, part of the Hebrides archipelago about
250 miles northwest of Edinburgh, are for. The majority of the 18,000
islanders strictly adhere to the books of Genesis and Exodus from the Old
Testament, in which God declared the seventh day reserved for rest and
worship. So after church services, they don’t use electricity, play games,
shop or even hang out laundry to dry.

The fight to prevent the ferry from docking in Stornoway dates back decades.
In 1965, the Rev. Angus Smith ? a now-retired Free Church of Scotland
minister ? lay down on a pier to block a ferry from trying to dock on a
Sunday. He predicted the Sabbath sailings will bring nothing but trouble.

“Church attendance will drop, shops will open and crime will go up,” he said.

The ferry company, which is owned by the Scottish government, said it made the
decision to start the Sunday sailings after community consultations. A
positive response combined with the worry over breaching equality laws led
to the decision.

It says it received legal advice that it would be unlawful to withhold a
service because of the religious views of one part of a community.

Peter Timms, the company chairman, said the Sunday timetable was designed to
avoid clashes with church services.

“We remain acutely aware of the sensitivities surrounding Sunday sailings, but
we cannot operate unlawfully nor fail to provide lifeline services when
there is a growing demonstrable demand from the communities we serve,” Timms
said.

At the ferry terminal on Ullapool pier, opinion was divided on the Sunday
ferry service.

“It’s quaint that people have these beliefs, but this is the 21st century and
if I want a pint of milk on Sunday, I expect to get it,” said Sandy Macrae,
a mechanic from near Ullapool in Wester Ross. “Frankly, religious types are
holding the rest of the community to ransom on this.

Roberts said the appeal of life on the islands ? for both residents and
tourists ? is that it is removed from the fast pace of the modern world.

“The islands are unique,” he said, “and those who live here and come to visit
come precisely because it is unique.

“And they like the idea of Sunday being a day of rest and worship.”

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