Stornoway Watchnight Service controversy

An ecumenical Watchnight service which is due for screening over Christmas has produced hard evidence that the world is shaking.


Watchnight Service1The Earth is moving

If there is any hard evidence to support the view that the world has shifted on its axis, one might be inclined to explore the impact of volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis.

However the tectonic plate-shifting of greatest magnitude is not around the geological fault-lines of the Pacific rim but rather in the Western Isles off the north-west coast of Scotland. In terms of  'climate change', it is not just the polar caps that seem to be disappearing – the thaw is showing signs of melting frozen relationships in the spiritual domain.

To touch briefly on the religious dimension of life in those Hebridean parts, it is very interesting to observe the ecclesiastical diversity which can be found across and within the small communities which are otherwise bound up in a common culture and (the Gaelic) language.

Travelling from the northern tip of Lewis to the southern isle of Barra exposes the traveller, in a relatively short distance, to a cameo of the historical 16th-century split between the Scottish reformers and the 'apostate' Church of Rome. (In fact Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Roman Catholic Pretender, made his escape to France in 1746 via a small island at the southern end of the archipelago: whereas the last signifcant Protestant revivals in the UK took place in the northernmost island of Lewis in the 1950s.)

To go for a walk on 'the Sabbath' in the presbyterian parishes verges on the unforgiveable sin whereas in the south, any Roman Catholic priest that is fit enough would be encouraged to join the local team at the Sunday football match – after the church service of course.

Daily life and relationships in the communities was and is as much governed by the daily routines and demands of crofting, fishing and (nowadays) tourism, as whether one's membership is of this church or that; or of the pub. [See earlier article for a fuller explanation of life in the Hebrides.]

In the pre-internet days the fashions, fads and trends of the rest of the world took a long time to wash up on the Atlantic shores of the Hebridean island chain. But not so now. The cultural 'transit time' from mainland/maintream to island life has been much reduced; and the erstwhile inhibitors to societal change are a shadow of their former selves. A manifestation of these changes has been the relatively-recent introduction of Sunday sailings across the Minch.

A Watchnight tremor

But to whatever degree change – even religious change – has moved on apace, the most recent, and quite spectacular manifestation of a profound shift in the prevailing attitudes has been the filming of an 'ecumentical Gaelic Watchnight Service' with ministers from both the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland taking part along with a Roman Catholic priest. And reporting in the provincial media has sensationalised the event further.
In expressing its concern, the Free Church (Continuing) has likened the coming together of the aforementioned Protestant churches with the Church of Rome as a form of communing with a representative of the Anti-Christ.

Now while the secular media might stand accused of stoking up controversy in order to sell copy, there is valid justification for reporting on the conflict.

Presbyterian churches in Scotland and around the world subscribe to a 'subordinate standard' – a document entitled the Westminster Confession of Faith. The WCF states:

"There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God.' (Ch.25/5).

So for a Reformed church of any stripe to share in a service with the arch enemy of God is no trivial matter. In relation to the WCF it is a classic case of being 'hoist by ones own petard'.

And it is in this context that the Free Church (Continuing) which split away from the Free Church of Scotland in 2000 has now written to the latter taking their mother denomination to task regarding the Free Church's participation.

Bridge across the divide

Hands across the divideIt may be of course that the entente cordiale between the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches will dissipate once the season of goodwill is over; but a rapprochement of this nature, in this particular part of the world, ranks high on whichever scale of measure one chooses to employ.

The invitation to the churches in the area stated:
"The service is ecumenical. Rev. James MacIver (Free Church) will lead the service, with readings and prayers from Rev. Angus Morrison (Church of Scotland) and Father Roddy Johnston (Roman Catholic Church).

Soloists Mary Smith, Donnie Murdo Macleod and Isobel Ann Martin are accompanied by local musicians performing a medley of Christmas classics. Pupils from Laxdale Primary School, the Nicolson Institute, Back Gaelic Choir, and the Martin's Memorial congregation will join together to sing favourite Gaelic carols."

The Gaelic Watchnight Service is due to be broadcast on BBC Alba on Christmas Eve at 11.00pm and repeated on Christmas Day. The programme – entitled 'Noillage à Steòrnabhagh' (Christmas from Stornoway) – was recorded in Martin's Memorial Church of Scotland in Stornoway on 3 December 2011, and can also be listened to on Radio nan Gàidheal.

Watchnight Service

Christians Together, 22/12/2011

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Peter Carr (Guest) 26/12/2011 23:17

1. It is not my place (nor yours I suspect) to judge anyone saved or unsaved - Matt 7.

2. If the Lord chooses to have born again Christians in the RC church, or reveal Himself to Muslims in dreams, what concern is that to you or I? Who is known the mind of The Lord that they may instruct Him?
Penny Lee 26/12/2011 23:56

Can you really contemplate that the Pope could possibly be a Christian and remain in the position he is in?
Peter Carr 27/12/2011 08:18

I prefer to leave judgement with God!!
Jenny 27/12/2011 10:45
".....I prefer to leave judgement with God!!....."
Peter, that's exactly the response by which many people I know tried to justify leaving an openly adulterous man in his post.
They were right that none of us could know whether ultimately God will accept him on the last day or not.
I think they were wrong in inferring the church had no mandate to discipline him here and now.
The present pope knows which side his bread is buttered on. He's consulted expediency and not spoken out the blasphemous claims for his office that his predecessors did. Those claims are still there in the RCC's official teaching, and they're still blasphemous.
Yes, for all we know he personally may yet be saved, but should we therefore condone the teaching that a man can be "Vicar of Christ", and stand in Christ's place?
N.D. (Guest) 27/12/2011 10:57
If this were the apostle Paul or Peter or James and John standing in the place of the pope , we might as well tear up the New Testament.
Penny Lee 27/12/2011 11:23

"I prefer to leave judgement with God!!"

In the discussion we had about Billy Graham, you said, "It seems to me (and others) that BG has strayed, the evidence is plain to see". Is this not judgement too?

I personally would have much more hope for Graham on Judgement Day than the Pope.
Jenny 27/12/2011 13:10
".....I personally would have much more hope for Graham on Judgement Day than the Pope...."

and so would I. Graham certainly knew the Gospel once. If the pope ever had, he would have had to confess to his millions of followers that they had been misled, and no church or man can give salvation.
A local (Guest) 27/12/2011 13:49
This was actually more about the Gaelic side of things than anything else.
The venue was chosen by the production company because it filmed well, not for any theological reasons.
As to the mix of speakers - this is being broadcast on the BBC so has to be balanced.
Peter Carr (Guest) 27/12/2011 17:57

I see no connection with the example that you give. All Christians are called to make sober judgements with regards things, or people, that they have in their sphere of influence. The Pope is not within my sphere of influence (nor yours I suspect!).


I consider your comment unreasonable. If you go back and read the thread on BG you will discover (I hope) that I was not/am not judging him, merely stating the facts.
Penny Lee 27/12/2011 19:06
Peter, I don't feel my comments are unreasonable. There are also facts surrounding the Pope. One important one is that he is welcoming the adulation which should be reserved for God alone and accepting of the title "Holy Father". There is only one Holy Father and the title belongs solely to God. There are also insurmountable doctrinal differences between the gospel of Jesus and what is practised in the catholic church. If the Pope were truly converted then he would have no choice but to come down from such a position, especially since he would have freewill to do so.
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Christians Together in the Highlands and Islands > Archive > Around the Region > Western Isles > Stornoway Watchnight Service controversy