Viewpoint from Revd Neil Spencer
Revd Neil Spencer,
Rector of Ormesby St Margaret with Scratby, Ormesby St Michael and St George’s, Rollesby.
We have just returned from holiday in the Outer Hebrides, on the islands of Harris and Lewis, where part of the social order is the fier
ce belief in the keeping of the Sabbath. On Sundays in the islands no shops are open, nor the Community Centre, the Sports Centre nor, much to the annoyance of its members, the Golf Club. No-one is supposed to drive anywhere except to go to church and nobody (and I mean nobody
) hangs out washing.
The arguments about this have raged for many years. It was only last year, after a prolonged campaign and protest movements on both sides, that the ferry was allowed to sail on a Sunday. In a television documentary a few months ago a Christian spokesman remarked that nowhere in the British Isles is the Christian faith so strong, and nowhere is it more hated.
The arguments are strong and well expressed on both sides. Those who are against strict keeping of the Sabbath argue that those of Christian faith should not impose their beliefs on others, and I can understand this. Those on the other side argue that biblical faith has always been at the centre of the fabric of community in the islands - an integral part of their identity, and those who have moved to the islands should respect that and not try to force their “mainland” views on the original inhabitants.
A third view, which I suppose I share, is that there should be one day a week where work
is not a requirement, a day which families can spend together whether or not they go to church. In an area like our own where many people work on farms or in the holiday industry, they have no option but to work on Sundays, and this does have a serious effect on family life. I know families where one parent works on Sundays and the other on Saturdays, so there is actually no time when children can spend the day with both parents.
Many years ago I used to be a member of the Lord’s Day Observance Society, which campaigned against the opening of shops on Sundays in England. My reason was not particularly that it would affect church attendance, because if people want to come to church they will find a way of doing so, but because it would only be a matter of time before people were forced to work Sundays as a condition of their jobs. We were laughed to scorn and we lost that battle, and now many people are required to work Sundays whether they wish to or not. What a surprise!
The effect on church attendance has been minimal, but the effect on family life, as we predicted, has been significant.
I cannot help hoping that the Outer Hebrides stick to their principles, if only to demonstrate that there is another way to live, and that for the health of community there needs to be some time in the week where earning money is not the only reason for life.