Shetland

Published 30th May 2010 by lucy moore

What an eventful weekend. I’m writing this in Glasgow airport between flights, and looking out on tarmac seems most peculiar after seeing only peat, lochs and voes for the last four days. I went on Friday with lots of preconceived ideas: that Shetland would be years behind the mainland, that it would be suspicious of outsiders and that it would be just another chunk of Scotland. I was wrong.
Shetland is (to ignorant me) a surprisingly cosmopolitan place with immigrants from all over the world, who come to work in the oil industry: in fact is far more ethnically diverse than my part of Hampshire. It combines a strong identity with a warm welcome to outsiders: something I definitely benefitted from, warmly welcomed as I was by my hosts. And it is undoubtedly a separate country from Scotland, separated not just by sea but by heritage: most people I spoke to claimed to have more in common with the Norwegians than with the Scots.
Everyone was so proud of their islands. I was whisked round to see so many sights: towering cliffs, turrucks (I don’t know how it’s spelled: a sort of sea bird – an Arctic swallow), puffins, strange land formations – there’s more geography in a square mile of Shetland than there is in most places – seals, an otter, houses belonging to my hosts’ relatives (most of the island as far as I could tell) and of course a whole district’s worth of Methodist chapels. One in particular sticks out as a fatal place to try to worship: right on the edge of a brilliantly sparkling stretch of water, with boats moored beside the chapel itself, otters playing there, unparalleled views across the hills… how anyone manages to concentrate on a sermon, I do not know.
We had a Messy Fiesta on Saturday between sightseeing and vast amounts of food, and I was privileged to join in with two Messy Churches on the Sunday (or Messy Kirks as they were occasionally called): the first ever Messy Churches in Shetland. They were great fun – the first in Scalloway had a real sense of excitement from the team who threw themselves in with abandon: a hula skirt that somehow migrated from being worn by Zandria to being worn by Stuart with equal aplomb, puppets, sea urchin shells, the inevitable boys making guns instead of God’s creation but never mind, a very flirtatious octopus and a brilliant young storyteller who deserves to be signed up on the Barnabas Team here and now for her lively rendition of the creation story. The evening Messy Church in Walls (a village on the west coast, not an icecream shop) was just as much fun in a completely different way: lots of space, mess, very with-it teenagers, dads and good moments.
I keep coming back to the definition of mission as seeing what God is doing and joining in. That was very much the situation this weekend. Messy Church may just be one more step in the faithful witness of these Methodist Churches on Shetland in a long history of witness to God’s living, loving power. For me it was a huge adventure, a time of making new friends and being welcomed into people’s hearts and homes with a generosity that humbled me. Shetland will always hold very warm memories for me.

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