Monday, 24 August 2009

Shetland - Scalloway, East Yell and Haroldswick

We arrived on the ferry in to Lerwick early on Saturday morning and were welcomed by District Chair, Jeremy Dare and his wife Sheila, with whom we would be staying during our stay on the Islands. For at least 24 hours we left behind the rain that seemed to have followed us around Scotland and we took the opportunity to enjoy a “given day” – a term used by those in Shetland for a good day of clear weather in which to down tools and enjoy the beauty of the world around them.

The Shetland Islands are certainly beautiful. Jeremy took us from the cliffs around Eshaness in the north of the mainland to the major archaeological site at Jarishof at the very southern tip of the island, and St Ninian's Isle (pictured below). We were even able to see across to Fair Isle, a small island with a population of just 70, half way between Shetland and Orkney, and home to one of the most remote Methodist congregations in the British Isles.

The story of Methodism on the Shetland Islands is one of small church communities offering faithful Christian witness in an often remote and sometimes harsh environment. We visited the small church in North Roe which has 8 members. The church building sits on the side of a bay with only a small number of other houses nearby. However when the church was threatened with closure the local community offered to run fundraising events to help refurbish a building they valued. Slowly but surely the building is now being renovated with the wider communities support and the hard work of volunteers.

We saw this pattern repeated right across Shetland. The church in Scalloway, the old capital of Shetland, has been refurbished in the last few years and now offers a welcoming and flexible worship space in which we shared in the Saturday evening prayer and praise meeting.

On Sunday we travelled 55 miles from Lerwick and used 2 ferries to reach Haroldswick where we were to worship in the most northerly church in Britain. Again this is a church that has survived because of the full support of the local community. In the late 1980s the old church suffered major damage during a storm, and the decision was made to build a new church on land nearby. Donald English, then President of the Conference, laid the foundation stone in 1990. The beautiful church reflects Shetlands strong links with Scandinavia and is based on a simplified form of Norwegian wooden Stave Kirk. It was built almost entirely by local volunteers.

We were greeted by members of the church and shared fellowship with them over tea before the evening service.

Haroldswick is on Unst, Shetland’s northernmost inhabited island. Earlier in the day we worshiped on the neighbouring island of Yell. The small Methodist church appears isolated on a hillside overlooking the sea and yet it would appear that this has been a popular destination for many a President and Vice-President, with a wall at the back of the church recording their visits. As everywhere we were warmly welcomed, and it was wonderful to be able to lead worship whilst also looking out on to the heather covered hillside. Following the service we joined local church steward Louis Johnson and his wife Lilias for a wonderful Sunday lunch as well as a fascinating rendition of the 23rd Psalm in the Shetland dialect.

We returned to the manse in Lerwick over 12 hours after we had left, and realised how challenging but rewarding offering pastoral oversight to remote island churches can be.


Anonymous said...

You seem to have had a good experience of Methodism in Scotland & the Shetlands and your feet don't seem to have touched the ground. The folk up there have shown what can be achieved through faith and commitment.

John & Vera

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the updates. Haroldswick Methodist Church is not only Britain's most northerly, it is also stunning!

With regards


Lytton said...

Thank you so much Richard for blogging and showing us what is happening around the Connexion. I am so interested in what Methodists are doing in places I don't have the opportunities to visit.