The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Right Reverend John P Chalmers, and his wife, Liz, visited Lewis Presbytery last week as part of their Moderatorial Tour of Scotland. With 44 Presbyteries in Scotland and four visited each year by the Moderator, a visit to Lewis only comes around every ten years or so.
The Moderator and Mrs Chalmers enjoyed some stunning weather as they made their way around the island, visiting Churches, public agencies, private businesses and community organisations.
Commenting on his visit, the Moderator said, “we could not have experienced any warmer a welcome than we have experienced in Lewis.
“We have learned much about the community and our visit has provided a much needed opportunity to affirm the work being done by the Church of Scotland throughout the Islands”.
Visits around the town of Stornoway included several Comhairle facilities, NHS Western Isles, Lews Castle College, the Harris Tweed Authority and Stornoway Historical Society.
An afternoon was spent around Stornoway Harbour visiting Stornoway Port Authority, the Royal National Mission for Deep Sea Fishermen and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution where a run in the Severn Class ‘Tom Sanderson’ lifeboat was arranged. With a background in engineering, the Moderator was fascinated by the power and speed of this impressive rescue craft.
On the Friday evening, the Moderator was joined by three senior representatives of the Central Church Councils to engage in constructive dialogue with members of Lewis Presbytery, discussing, among other things, the Church’s handling of Religious Observance in Schools and the contentious issue of Civil Partnerships and the Ministry.
The Moderator’s team listened intently to the deep concerns of Lewis Presbytery regarding these issues.
After taking the Ice Bucket Challenge on the Saturday evening at the hands of staff and young people at Martin’s Memorial ‘Shed’ drop-in centre, the Moderator spent Sunday around the Stornoway Churches, preaching in Stornoway High Church, participating in worship at Martin’s Memorial and later visiting the St Columba’s Guild.
A visit to the Reserve Army (Western Isles Company), the Army Cadet Force and the Air Training Corps held special significance for the Moderator and Mrs Chalmers.
In 2011, their son, J J, was badly injured by an Improvised Explosive Device while working with his Royal Marine Commando colleagues to clear a Taliban bomb making factory in ‘the most dangerous square mile on earth’ north of Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
J J received severe injuries to his hands and arms and two of his fellow Commandos from J Company, 42 Commando, were killed by the blast. J J was airlifted by helicopter and, for some time, his life hung in the balance. He is now recovering well and is due to be married in January 2015.
A poignant moment occurred for the Chalmers when they later visited a wartime exhibition, organised by Kinloch Historical Association in Balallan School. There, they saw a 2013 Royal Marine Commando uniform identical to that worn by J J when he was injured.
The visit continued across the island, covering sites of interest in the West Side, Uig & Bernera and Lochs. Wherever they went, the Chalmers were warmly received and experienced for themselves some legendary island hospitality.
At every stop, the Moderator and Mrs Chalmers took time to chat and pray with people who happily shared the importance of their faith in responding to the challenges of life.
At Harris Tweed Hebrides, Mrs Chalmers was able to select a length of Harris Tweed to be made into a coat for their son’s wedding in January while, at Mangersta, Uig, the Chalmers were able to view St Kilda in the distance from the proposed site of Ionad Hiort, the St Kilda Centre.