The Manse


30th December 2018

Dear friends , 

Bliadhna Mhath Ùr dhuibh uile  nuair a thig i !  A happy New year to you all when it comes. I take  this opportunity to write my customary  New Year’s Day letter going out on the last Sunday of the old year, simply to wish you all God’s richest blessings for the New Year.  I hope and pray that everyone had a happy and blessed Christmas time, and that it might be in faith and confidence in God that we look forward to 2019.

I admit that New Year is not my favourite time of the year. Admittedly there is opportunity for reflection and correction, and there is time for resolutions, but there is also the uncertainty of what the future holds. It is a time when many struggle, with loneliness, isolation, addiction and past regrets, and so I feel it is very important, more important than ever, that we look out for each other, and realise how much we need each other in such strange and uncertain times. 

The coming year will certainly bring many challenges to us as a community as well as a nation, and so I believe it is imperative that we keep our perspective on God in all the coming storms and  uncertainties of 2019. Brexit looms large in 2019 , as we as a nation meander chaotically towards leaving the European union on 29th March . However I take encouragement from the fact that God is  still in control. 

The year that has past has brought great change to our congregation and community, and it is only right that we acknowledge this. Several of you reading this letter  have sad memories of bereavement and loss in your families over this year. My prayer for each and all of you is that God the Holy Spirit will bring great consolation  to assuage the grief and fill the empty place in heart and home, and that 2019 will be a year of great comfort and blessing to you all. 

In our islands at least, the end of this year has been dominated in many ways by thoughts of the centenary of the loss of HMY Iolaire on 1st January 1919. As we know 201 lives were lost on that dark night in our island’s history. It would be superfluous for me to add too much more to what has been  said by many others in the past year. Numerous poignant and imaginative commemorations and tributes have been composed in music, song, sculpture, film and literature this year and have given expression to the often unspoken grief that emotionally paralysed the islands for decades. 

Sheoil an Iolaire memorial on South Beach Stornoway

 And so it is with solemn remembrance we will meet at the war memorial on Main Street at 1.45 am on New Year’s Day to  pay tribute to those from Harris and other places who perished  on that terrible night. A warm invitation is given to all who can to attend this service, which will include the tolling of the church bell, and local pipers playing laments as well as the laying of wreaths .  

Our customary new Year’s day service will also reflect upon the tragic loss of the Iolaire. One of the psalms we will sing on New Year’s day contains  words from Psalm 77

“Do cheuman tha san doimhneachd mhòir, do shlighe tha sa chuan: Ach luirg do chas chan aithnich sinn, tha siud am falach uainn.” – Your way was in the sea, Your path in the great waters, And Your footsteps were not known. “ 

( Psalm 77:19) 

These words are engraved on the Iolaire memorial at Holm, and seem to capture well the helplessness  of humanity in the face of the hostile  elements, but also the immutable, sovereignty of the God for whom the raging seas holds no fear.  Psalm 77 is a psalm of consolation , and a testimony to the redemption of the God who walks on the waters( John 6:16). 

Despite the harrowing years that followed, with many other challenges and disasters, our islands have survived, and through it all I believe that we should see the unseen hand of God in providence caring for our island in good times and in bad. It is only when we look back upon the times that have past that we can really see how God has been ‘ our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble” ( psalm 46:1).  It is my prayer that we should all look to the future in faith, walking by faith and not by sight and trusting in the Lord with all our hearts and not leaning upon our own understanding. 

With every good wish for the New Year, and the blessings of Christ to you all, 

Ian Murdo Macdonald 

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