In the past, people have fled the cruelty of men and of the elements to find refuge and safety in church buildings
Starting a ministry is always a process of discovery. You arrive carrying the luggage of past knowledge and experience but, like the old furniture packed onto the removal lorry, whatever you bring along has to find its own place in your new home. My biblical faith has furnished and enriched my life in many ways and my vocation is to explore how to fit these Christian teachings, which mean so much to me, in to my new situation as minister to the people of Bonar Bridge and Lairg. Doing that effectively means discovering something about its people, history, and culture.
While our border collie, Princess, is much more in her element here than in the city of Edinburgh, I have found myself doing things which would not have crossed my mind a few years ago. Cleaning the chicken pen, splitting firewood, helping with cattle feeding and sheep clipping, and reading the Scottish Farmer are all new experiences. As a family we are indebted to the new friends who have enriched us by sharing their lives and giving us a taste of Highland hospitality. The daily duties of our crofters and farmers can be relentless, demanding, and marked by uncertainty due to changing government policies on trade and the environment. Still, there they are working away in the dark, rain, wind, and snow because they love their animals and the land they work.
This small taste of what rural Highland life is like has given me a point of personal contact as I learn more about a prominent local historical concern, the ‘Clearances’. Whilst the reality seems to have been more complex than some of the popular representations suggest (as T.M. Devine demonstrates in his book, The Scottish Clearances – A History of the Dispossessed) the image of an evicted, homeless people taking refuge in Croick church is powerfully emotive in its stark simplicity. Life in the far north can be challenging even with cars, supermarkets and central heating. I try to imagine the psychological impact of being moved on from land which had been worked by hand, without modern machinery, for generations. I try to envisage the desperation of facing such trying and unjust circumstances without the welfare system and infrastructure which we now take for granted. Like many old places of worship the future of the church building at Croick is uncertain in spite of the critical role it played in local history, and I wish every success to those who are working to preserve and maintain it for future generations.
The image of a dispossessed people finding shelter in a church building is also spiritually evocative for me. ‘Church’ is often perceived as just an old, cold building full of old, cold people. You might think that it is a sort of social club for the well-to-do, a place where you cannot go until you are good enough, or until you dress the right way. But these perceptions are far removed from the biblical image of Jesus calling people who are spiritually distressed, downtrodden, and dispossessed to take refuge in him: “Come to me and I will give you rest!” I am glad that, in the past, ordinary people have fled the cruelty of men and of the elements, to find refuge and safety in church buildings. But the bigger vision this points to is one in which the church becomes known more and more as a community where ordinary people can experience both simple human kindness and the wonderful kindness which God has shown in Jesus Christ.
by Ben Fiddian, Minister of Bonar Bridge and Lairg Free Church of Scotland
Last Updated on 10 March, 2022 by Kyle Chronicle