As most of you are well aware I have just returned from a week on St Kilda. It was the trip of a lifetime, being one of those travel destinations that I had always hoped I would have the opportunity to be able to do some day. It really is the edge of the world…41 miles west from North Uist in the Outer Hebrides and way out in the Atlantic. The islands of Hirta, Soay, Boreray and attendant Stacs making up the archipelago called St Kilda. It is actually the visible summit of an extinct volcano. The weather can be very oceanic, changing incredibly quickly with swirling mist enveloping around the tops of the hills. The sea cliffs are the highest in the British Isles, taller than those in Foula in Shetland, which I have also had opportunity to visit. There are interesting comparisons between St Kilda and Foula.

The bird and mammal life on the islands is quite diverse. St Kilda boasts its own breed of wild Soay sheep and the largest wren in the British Isles. I actually witnessed two of the large mice there having a boxing match…it really was very funny. The journey there and back was a bittie bumpy to say the least, but to have been able to have sailed close below the sea Stacs was just awesome. The outward sail was two and a half hours in a boat from Leverburgh in Harris and four hours on the inward journey, passing other islands like Pabbay, Ensay and Killegray. Forty years ago I used to conduct an annual pilgrimage to Ensay. We have a church there called Christ Church which is Medieval. At the top end of Lewis we also have another ancient gem of a church; St Moluag’s in Eoropaidh, Ness. It used to have an ancient Celtic Cross on the altar taken from North Rona, but which is now in the Ness museum. I used to love saying Mass with it in front of me on the altar.

Anyway, the peace and quiet of St Kilda was something else. A couple of nights I actually slept for nine hours which was very relaxing indeed. Communication with the outside world was at a minimum and it gave me opportunity to reflect on my life and the things of the spirit. I could appreciate why the Celtic saints took to places like St Kilda to find the ‘desert’ experience… to be alone with God and your own thoughts. St Kilda resonates with dùthchas, which is a Gaelic word that covers birthplace, blood, clan and spirituality. I was fortunate to have stayed in one of the original houses on the street, going up to the Factor’s House for meals, where my host and hostess were in residence. The house that I slept in just pulsated with a feeling and sense of presence of those who had gone before. In fact their names were all inscribed on a slate at the front door.

I was able to say Mass in the Chapel on Sunday morning. The congregation being made up of my hosts, NTS workers, some visitors and the boatman who had ferried me over. One of the congregation was the daughter of one of the last native residents. She travels from London to St Kilda every year to work, in a voluntary capacity, for the NTS. She was actually sitting in her family pew for the service which was amazing. I spent the rest of the time walking, reading, writing up my travel journal, thinking, saying the office and engaging in prayer, and as you would expect, socialising. It will take me some time to assimilate and process all that I experienced because it was so enriching and stimulating to have had the chance to have been there. In many ways St Kilda is a Scotland that has gone… but the place still has the capacity, the feeling, of how to teach our contemporary world a thing or two. When I was there a huge Cruise liner came into the bay. When it turned to go the black reek that came out of its funnel was unbelievable. It seemed that two worlds were colliding. So much for a World Heritage Site!

As I write this letter I have just heard on the television the report of the 2022 Census saying that less than fifty percent of the Scottish population believe in God. If that is true then what a sad state of affairs that is. I cannot help thinking that this nation ‘has last its wye,’ as they say in Shetland. What a change in our society, particularly in the last ten years. It’s quite sad really for a country whose values traditionally came out of Christian faith and belief. It’s almost as if we have become rudderless, that we don’t know where we came from or where we going to. On top of that, at the General Assembly In Edinburgh it seems as if the Church of Scotland is floundering. Closing buildings, walking away from historic sites and lifting the footprint of presence everywhere. Mind you, we are not much better in the Episcopal Church.

On Whitsunday it was the forty-fifth anniversary of me celebrating mass as a priest. I have witnessed some change in Scottish society over that period. Indifference to religion, and especially to the Christian religion, is I think, going to cause major problems in society. You can see it all coming, and that’s why it is so essential and so important for us as a congregation to be solid in our faith and conviction.

To meet that challenge our Hall has been renovated and will soon be re-opened. I had a peek in the door the other day, and it is almost unrecognisable, from what was there before. What an opportunity we will have to re-engage with the community. The Hall is going to look fabulous and it is something we can be really proud of. The Polish workers, along with Scullion Bruce and Co, the joiners in Littlejohn Street, have done an excellent job. We are gradually edging towards a re-opening celebration in late June!

Elsewhere in the magazine you will find a poem called Septuagesima penned by Sir John Betjeman, who was a great admirer of Sir Ninian Comper’s architecture and artistic style. Please do read it and ponder the sentiments and reflect on what we are trying to do here in this place. We have been given a fabulous asset by previous generations. Let’s cherish it and encourage ourselves and others to move forward into the future.

The Gallowgate Festival will take place on Saturday 3rd of August and will carry on through the following week, ending with the Ceilidh on the Friday evening. Fiona Kennedy has agreed to come down on the day and join us. I am asking you where possible to come out and support this event. In addition there will be a Grand Raffle. We need to generate as much capital as we can. So please sell the books. Return the stubs and unsold books by the date printed on the ticket. We lost out last year with people not returning unsold books, which could have been sold-on during the day, and at the Ceilidh.

So here’s to an exciting, enjoyable, engaging and productive summer on all counts!
As ever,

Your sincere friend and Rector.