The Pros and Cons of an Island Ministry

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Reflections on the first month in Knock & Point

It is now just over a month since I was ordained and inducted as the new minister of Knock & Point FCC on the Isle of Lewis. This has been a busy month, filled with sermons, visits, chores (as we settle as a family into a new house), and yet also full of enjoyment and satisfaction. It is a rare privilege to get a job doing exactly what you love doing, and that is what I have received in the call that this congregation has given me to be their pastor.

As I reflect on this month, I feel drawn to list the Pros and Cons:

THE CONS

  1. Distance – We have moved to an island archipelago many miles off the coast of North West Scotland. Travel to the mainland is either queasy and time-consuming (the ferry), not to mention not very reliable (I hear it broke down today in Ullapool, resulting in cancelled sailings again); or fast but pricey (the plane). We left a flat in Glasgow just five minutes drive from my own parents’ house; now if we want to take our son to see them, it will be at least a ten-hour trip from door to door, including breaks and waiting times for the ferry. It will take a while to get used to these distances.
  1. Storms – As long as I live, I will never forget the day I moved to Lewis: the 8th of January of this year. I got my rental van over on the ferry, got it unloaded with a few willing helpers, parked it back at the house where I was to spend the night… and struggled inside the house against wind I had never experienced, like walking into a solid physical force. The next morning, I woke up to find the whole van – a 3.5 ton truck! – had blown right off the road onto the shoreline. While I slept, insulated from the noise in a sheltered, rear-facing bedroom of the house, Lewis suffered its worst storm since records began, with wind gusts recorded up to 132 mph.Minutes after getting up, I found myself being interviewed: first by the Police (who found the incident highly comic); and then by a journalist for Reporting Scotland. After a rather embarrassing phone call with Arnold Clark (who I have to say were very good about it, and just charged me the £100 excess, and the ferry fare to recover it back to the mainland), I went out to watch a crane lift the van, somehow still on its wheels, though badly bashed up underneath, onto the back of a flatbed truck. This was a novel experience, though one I hope never to repeat!

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  1. Wind – The storms may be occasional, but the wind is constant. Our new home is a village called Swordale, lying on a high ridge of land, part of the peninsula of Point that stretches out into open sea. With no shelter, the wind comes rushing in off the water, and is a constant presence. Bins need to be wedged in tightly, or (as I have found) we end up picking up milk bottles, carried hundreds of yards by its power. At night, the gusts thunder against the walls of the house, and hail lashes against the windowpane like bullets. Some days it is genuinely too windy to walk outside with any real comfort – one ends up bent double, struggling towards the car as fast as possible, desperate to get into its shelter. Today (windy even by Lewis standards), I have only been out of the house for absolute essentials (to put dirty nappies in the outside bin, if you must know), and even then with hood up and as fast as possible – and the bin is only ten feet from the front door! This I have still not got used to.

THE PROS

  1. A Place with Gospel Heritage – Lewis is a place with a serious heritage of Gospel blessing. This island has known true revival, as recently in Point as the late 1950s, and that has left its mark. There is, even now, an enduring respect for serious Christianity in the wider community – a fruit, in my view, of outstanding professing Christians, probably in every village in Lewis, whose lives are an open book, and plainly testify to conscientious commitment. This is seen in the Sabbath, still widely observed across the island, with most shops and local services shut, and in the levels of church attendance, much reduced in recent years, yet still far above national averages. Furthermore, the great majority of those who do attend are sitting under generally Reformed and evangelical ministries. Lewis is not a paradise, people are sinners here as well, but we have a “goodly heritage”.It is a privilege to minister in such an area, and amongst such a people. The older members of my congregation have experienced extraordinary times of Spiritual Presence and blessing, such as we can only long for today. They have also sat under truly exceptional ministers. Two of my predecessors in particular, Kenneth Smith of Knock, and John MacSween of Point, are frequently and appositely quoted in conversation, having been profound theologians, and deeply exercised preachers. It is deeply humbling that an ignorant creature like myself should attempt to pastor such a flock, and in this work I can truly only seek the aid of “Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20).
  1. A Congregation with a Desire for the Word – Here I am among a congregation who expect serious expository preaching; who will not be satisfied with stories and gimmicks, who demand spiritual meat. Here, professing Christians, work and health permitting, generally attend Divine worship three times a week without fail, and attend closely to all that is said and done. They enjoy discussion, relish debate, desire instruction – and it is a pleasure to preach in such a context. I am still in my ‘honeymoon period’ in the congregation – but long may it last!
  1. Congregation with Children – Many churches today are predominantly elderly, and lots of congregations have no children. I am deeply thankful to be pastor to ten children, and pray that that number will increase as time advances. Most of all, I pray that through the preaching of Gospel truth, these ten precious souls will be brought to fulfill the vows made on their behalf in baptism, and embrace the Lord Jesus as Saviour. To see this would be an indescribable joy.
  1. Opportunity for Witness – I am especially glad that some of those in the community who do not yet profess Christ as Saviour do attend the services, and so I preach evangelistic sermons, to open to them the Good News of the Gospel, and to urge them to repent from sin, and to turn in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, as “the only mediator between God and men” (1Tim 2:5).
  1. Permanence – This is a particular privilege. For ten years, I have been a university student, a divinity student, in summer work, in temporary employment; now I am the minister of Knock & Point, permanently – until that door closes, or the Lord emphatically calls me somewhere else. Despite the distance, the storms, and the wind, this is now our home. Here we are settled, putting down roots, building relationships, living our lives. It is great to be settling into the routines of pulpit preparation, pastoral visitation, church administration, family time, and personal study time.

There is a lot to do; but it is busy, productive work, and it is great to be scheduling my time carefully, assigning my hours with care, so that I achieve the required work in the given time. I expected when coming here to be using lots of old sermons (I have more than 100 that I have never preached in Point), but in fact in the last month I have used just one old message, and it has been the one I least enjoyed. In truth, there is a great joy in preparing specifically for the people whose needs I am reflecting on and praying over, and I have no wish to reheat “cold porridge” prepared for other people and different circumstances.

CONCLUSION

So the PROS have it! It is an honour to be the minister of Knock & Point FCC; as the Psalm says: “The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad” (Ps 126:3). I pray the Lord keeps me and sustains me in that work. I would value your prayers too for this ministry: that the Lord would follow with his blessing, that souls would be the saved, that the name of Jesus would be exalted, world without end.

 

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4 comments to The Pros and Cons of an Island Ministry

  • Good to read of such Alasdair. May The Lord be pleased to give many years of faithful & fruitful labour. Every blessing in the work!

  • Isobel McQueer

    Dear Alasdair, thank you for your update, I could hear your voice as I read, (always a good indicator of a good newsy read!). We were so sorry to miss the induction. On a personal note, the 8th January 1968 saw one of the most devastating winds to hit Glasgow, and I too slept right through it, it was my first night in the nursing home at Glasgow Royal Infirmary and I was also in a ‘back’ room! What a shock to wake up and see the sides of tenements down and roofs exposed. SO we share some experiences too, but the greatest experience we share is to be united in Christ. I look forward to you sharing more of your island life with us in future. Wishing you and the family every blessing. Remember it’s not so far to FARR! With love Isobel

  • Andrew Allan

    Good to read your thoughts on your first month in the Gospel ministry. May you, your family, and congregation know much encouragement in the days ahead b

  • Sandy Murray

    Good to read this Alasdair,will look forward to your updates.Your weather looked as if it was improving over the weekend. Hope to catch up with you soon,in the meantime though I wish you, family, congregation and those you are witnessing to the Lords richest blessing.

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