Scottish Island's Sacred Sunday Under Threat

An unholy row has broken out over a
ferry company's decision to sail on Sunday between a remote
Scottish island and the mainland.

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
U.K. or the U.S. 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 (400 kilometers) 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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