It was that time again. There were noticable and unusual movements of people and animals throughout Lewis. Buses were transporting hundreds of people dressed in dark clothing, to various places around the island. At first glance,one might think that they were destined for some distant funeral. There was a certain gravitas about these people, and inside the bus there hung the strange odour of camphor and peppermint. As the bus passed through various townships, the people did not talk, and the silence was broken only occasionally by the rustling of paper. The driver certainly had a destination in mind, and was aware of the nature of this journey. The people were mainly old in age, but not exclusively. Hard toil and a harsh climate were etched on their faces, and here their Sunday clothes seemed strangely out of place. However, any onlooker might underrate the strength of character of the people who travelled in that bus, some perhaps sucking quietly on a Mint Imperial. Any Leodhhasach would know that this was the season of Communions called "Na Ordaighean", held in all the churches across the island. It is a unique Presbyterian season, consisting of various services including the sacrament of communion. All are welcome to these services, but only the worthy can approach the table to partake of the bread and wine. These communicants are known as "comanaiche", and are often described as "curamach". Those who do take communion are known among their brethren as committed to their Lord. It is a very public affirmation of their faith, and is never taken lightly. It was because of 'Na Ordaighean' that presbyterian manses were built so large, to accommodate visiting ministers at such times.
The animal churches had always synchronised their communions with those of their human kind. If you knew that there were communions in Shawbost, for example, then you could be sure that Na Ordaighean Eaglais na Eoin were being held in Shawbost too. Dogs and cats from the Doune church were welcome here in Shawbost, despite being of a "different denomination". Among the animals and birds, the word "denomination" was borrowed long ago from man's lexicon, but now it was meaningless, and of little import in the animals' doctrine of faith. The animal churches were an example of the ecumenism that had long eluded the "man churches" in Lewis. Theirs was a history of dissent and schism, which baffled the animal congregations. At the animal communions one might expect a great, if not incongruous, mix of communicants sitting side by side in the pews - the eagle with the lamb or the cat with the sparrow. The elders of Eaglais na Eoin had wisely anticipated the problems which could arise by dint of hunger or an animal's natural instincts, and they did all they could to allay the fears of the small and the timid among their flock. Animals were matched in size and temperament in the various services, although there would always be a problem with the golden eagles.
The Dalmore crew were fairly regular churchgoers, with the exception of Kenny Iceland and Tom Warrener, who long ago had foregone the comforts of home for the cold and damp of the rabbit burrows. You would only see them on the odd occasion if the hunting was poor or the weather was foul. They had no idea what day it was, and wouldn't know that it was a Sunday, assuming that they had a mind to go to church, which they didn't. Fancy was out at the "geata iarran" this Wednesday evening, when he espied three dark figures making their way in the Dalmore road. Positioning himself behind a peat stack, closer examination revealed that it was the Reverend MacCollie with two large dogs, probably elders in the Doune church. Forewarned, Fancy sped ahead to the village to announce the imminent arrival of these dogs of doom.
MacCollie and his cohorts stopped a few times as they went in the road, to talk to the odd cat or upbraid some poor dog for his irregular attendance at church - leaving the poor soul with a "hung dog" expression across his face. MacCollie was in his usual garb of large dog collar, long dark coat and the obligatory Homburg hat on his head. His elders were dressed in dark attire, and walked a few paces behind MacCollie, in a "crub" posture. The Doune churchmen looked as if they had walked straight off the pages of Revelations. Kenny Iceland in Taigh 'Houdie maintained that he had heard The Horses of the Apocalypse out at the Mullach Mor. We must remember that Kenny was credited with the second sight.
Rupie : " And what kind of horses are they ? Are they like Jimmy, or Each na Cnaimhan ? "
Soho : "No, a' ghraidh, much bigger, you could say, but don't you worry yourself."
Iain and Murdo, Balaich 'Houdie, were seated on the "leathad" down from the house, with their animals seated around them, when the minister and his elders approached.
Iain : "Madainn mhath, a' Mhinister. De tha a dhith oiribh ?"
MacCollie : " A courtesy call, 'An 'Houdie, just passing through."
Elder no. 1 : " Dha riribh, a' dhaoine, dha riribh.
Stowlia noted that Iain used that same phrase a lot, but as often , he exaggerated it to sound like 'gha reeroo'.
Soho : " Mr MacCollie, rest assured that we'll be attending a service in Shawbost. Isn't that right, folks ?"
In unison the others answered 'dha riribh, dha riribh.'
Fred : " Take a gander at him wi' the big stick. He's a bear of a man. Is he the Witchfinder General or the Wicker Man ? He scares the hell outa me."
He was referring to Elder no. 2, whose eyes were fixed on Kenny Iceland.
MacCollie : " Kenny, It's been many a year since I saw you in church. Are you not afraid for your immortal soul ? The communions are on at the moment, and we are on our way to the Wednesday evening prayer meeting in Shawbost. We'd like you to come with us."
Kenny : " You pray for Shawbost if you like, A' Mhinister, but I am staying right here in Dalmore"Mac Collie : " Many in our flock have taken the "curam" at these meetings. They have been collapsing in raptures - even Gilleasbuig the golden eagle. Fred : " A' widnae like to be anywhere near the Big Man when he collapsed. I remember a few years ago in the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow when the American evangelist, Uilleam Greumach, was calling on thousands to come forward to be saved. I made to join the throng of howling animals, when my brother grabbed me by the tail and said. "Sit doon, Fred. If you join that lot, there will be no more raids on the Lucky Midgies, doon the Double Dykes." I could never fault my brother's advice ! Fancy : " I think Kenny is a Pantheist. We should respect him for that." Mr MacCollie smiled, bid farewell and left.
Ordaighean Siabost were a great success. The Reverend MacCraw, Macraw Mor, was on his home turf' and his preaching was as powerful as anyone can remember. When he spoke to the book of Isaiah, the very rafters shook. Here at the communions, there had been powerful sermonising, intelligent discourse on doctrine and the articles of faith, and very many conversions. The greatest of these was surely that of the big eagle from Beinn Bhragair. The example of his faith would be carried higher and further than ever before. The buses left for Doune and other villages, and the peppermint sweets were being handed around with abandon.
Even the Right Reverend John MacCollie deigned to take off his dog collar, before slipping into his bed, that night.
Glossary of words.
Leodhasach / person from Lewis ; Na Ordaighean / The Communions ; comanaiche / communicants ; curamach / the converted ; Eaglais nan Eoin / church of the birds ; geata iarran / the iron gate ; crub / bent down ; Mullach mor / top of the pass ; Each na Cnaimhan / "the Bones"horse ; a graidh / my dear ; Balaich 'Houdie / the Shoudie boys (brothers)
Madainn mhat a' Mhinister / Good morning, Minister ; De tha a dhith oribh / what do you want ? ; Dha riribh, a'dhaoine / indeed, people ; curam / conversion ;
midgies / rubbish bins (Scots) ; dykes / walls (Scots)