Musings from an Islay manseJanuary 15, 2010
In October I embarked on a journey with my dog and a car full of luggage, writes Scott Carroll. We were going to provide cover in the linked parishes of Kilchoman, Kilmeny and Portnahaven on Islay which cover the north half of the island.
It was the second time that I had been made aware of the Parish. Three years before I had seen a post as Reader Assistant advertised but I was caring for my wife at that time and her care needs could not have been properly dealt with on the island and I had to forego the chance. This time I no longer had these responsibilities, and on hearing that the minister was leaving at the end of September I was persuaded to take the post until the end of the year at which point both parties could consider their options. I would take two services a week and deal with such parish duties as came up. It was an immediate immersion into a very different community.
The first difference I noticed was having to stop the car to let cattle cross the road from the beach to the field where they usually grazed: welcome to Islay! I also noticed that the drivers of most of the cars that I passed waved to me, and there was nothing wrong with the car. Confusing … but the Session Clerk explained that people just did this – if they don’t wave they are tourists!
Another difference was with funerals. I was phoned by the local undertakers and advised of a funeral later in the week at Kilmeny. After a short discussion I was told that they would have to educate me into “Island ways” as they did with every new minister. The remains are received into the Church on the evening before a funeral to allow viewing by relatives and friends. The funeral took place and the hearse took the coffin to the graveyard followed by the minister and mourners on foot. Invariably the cemetery is at least a mile from the Kirk and in Kilmeny’s case it was through a woodland track, so to maintain dignity I changed from shoes into hiking boots. In Portnahaven I was told that local families hold to a tradition of serving oatcakes and cheese with a dram of whisky as the mourners in earlier times had to carry the coffin two miles. I am sure such a practice could increase numbers attending funerals in Dumfries! The “trial period” went well with some excellent services over the Christmas period, the outcome being that I was offered and accepted an official “Locum” appointment from the 11th January for the length of the vacancy.
I was back in Dumfries over New Year and it was good to meet up with friends in Maxwelltown West, where I hasten to add I am still a member and an elder.
I am sure that you can gather that I am enjoying my time here. My “acceptance” was complete when, at a Watchnight service, I asked a Guild member to pass me the milk for my tea. Her reply was wonderful: “Get it yourself, you are family” – acceptance indeed! I honestly believe somehow I have been led into this situation and all I can do is follow as well as I can. I will be back in Dumfries during the summer. Meantime I send my best wishes and those of my parishioners and ask you to pray that this vacancy may be resolved soon.