First Anniversary of Western Isles Secular Society!

Posted by on 1 January, 2018 | 0 comments

A series of unexpected events afforded me a surprise opportunity to travel to Stornoway to join the Western Isles Secular Society as they celebrated their 1st anniversary. Given the wild ride through their inaugural year, it was a privilege to join them in celebrating their success.

The super crew of the Western Isles Secular Society.

The official celebration was to be held on the first Sunday evening in December, at the Caladh Inn. This gave me an extended weekend to wander around the beautiful eastern area of Lewis & Harris. Strong messages in the media about Stornoway’s unique desire for publicly and privately keeping the Sabbath holy had me curious. I thought it would be nice to walk the area and experience, first hand, the solitude and serenity the Sabbath Observance Committee and The Lord’s Day Observance Society insist are afforded by forcing Sunday closures of public facilities (private businesses owners, of course, are free to determine their own hours).

A gift from one of the locals to the newest shop owner. The Holy Bible.

Public facilities include the local sports facility, parks, boat ramps, golf courses, and more. I didn’t take an official head count, but it was clear that most of the shops and cafés were closed that Sunday. Most, but not all. There was a petrol station open, a couple shops, the ferry and airport, and of course, Lews castle and all the other hotels and inns.

Walking the main centre of Stornoway, Sandwick Bay, Lews Castle, and the ferry port-o-call, two qualities of the area struck me. The first was that Stornoway and the surrounding areas are beautiful.

Every corner I turned nearly took my breath away.

The buildings are pastel and sturdy, moored boats reflect clear off black freezing water, and the rolling landscape is as inviting as it is formidable.

The second was the number of people out and about. People strolling along the water, families playing in the park, the never-ending flow of customers into the open shop and café. The castle, in particular, with its café, gift shop, hotel, surrounding woodlands, and neighbouring golf course was a hotbed of Sunday activity.

And that tell-tale small town act of greeting each person you pass was in full bloom. I can’t remember the last time I had so many strangers in the street greet me with a warm hello, coupled with a nod or smile.

A great evening with the locals of Stornoway.

Contrary to the Sabbatarians’ insistence, this Sunday did not appear to be an unholy practice of sinful indulgence at the sake of Christian godly serenity. As it stood, I didn’t end up encountering a single person whose Sunday was ruined from the families playing in the park, or dining at the café, or riding bicycles, or walking their dogs. If anything, the weather appeared to have more of an impact on foot traffic than the day of the week.

Hebridean Brewing Co. Ltd. at the Edge O’ The World. Pictured: Rod Morison

Finally getting to meet the owner of Tweedtastic!

That famous Lewis tweed.

Shop front, Tweedtastic

I did, however, run into a whole host of secretive and private efforts to limit Sunday public activities. A sign announcing the locked gate hours that lead to the public boat ramp. A gate, mind you, easily walked around and re-opened if desired. The sharp speed bumps recently installed that replaced the now infamous Saturday Night Tree Log dropped in the driving path. The private golf course prohibited to club members on Sunday. Play park signs that fall outside the law.

Sabbatarian sign with local opinions loud and clear.

For all these Sabbatarian efforts, the most striking effect was from the people I spoke with that weekend. Shop owners, gallery patrons, parents, farmers, all had their own take on forced Sunday closures around Stornoway. I wasn’t surprised at the number of residents sharing with me their dislike of Sunday closures (all but one elderly gentleman who was indifferent), but I was truly taken aback at how many times someone quickly followed up their confession with a hushed request that their anti-Sabbatarian opinions never be made public, or that their picture not be taken, or their name be noted. Business owners feared loss of customers, as well offers to renew their leases. Public employees, hospital staff, school teachers, and administrators all feared losing their jobs. The fear that the local authority and church elders have instilled in their community members is unacceptable.

Stornoway parish is beautiful, and will remain that way whether doors open on Sundays or not. Their own history is clear on this; selling a latte, or going to the gym on the Lord’s Day is not damaging the community. Fear mongering and misplaced religious privileges are, and there’s no place for either in Scotland on any day of the week.


Megan Crawford

Chair, Scottish Secular Society


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