The protestant reformation was slow to come to South Uist and when it did come it was at times accompanied with the dispersal of the resident population and new tenants being brought to the island.
The congregation of Howmore was part of the Church of Scotland, but the congregation of Daliburgh started out as a congregation of the United Free Church and only later became part of the Church of Scotland. In 1978 the two congregations, which until then had functioned separately, were united into one and in 2014 they linked up with the congregation in Barra and share a minister between them.
While many associate the Western Isles with a stern form of Calvinism this was not the case for South Uist whose Protestant congregations were informed by ecumenical gentleness and openness. It therefore was perhaps only natural that South Uist would be the first in the Western Isles to ordain women to the eldership, followed later by extending a call to Rev Jackie Petrie to become their first female minister.
The geographical and far flung nature of our island means that in many ways we cannot replicate the weekly activities of many mainland congregations. In fact, some church members can only manage to attend worship on a fortnightly basis in the church that is not too many miles from their home.
Throughout the year we offer activities and community engagement in different parts of the island and these have a vital function in helping to overcome social and geographical isolation. Please click here for events planned in the near future.
We also offer special services of worship at particular times of the year. These include a Maundy Thursday Communion service, a service to mark the work of Ceolas and a Community Carol service at the beginning of Advent.
Members of our congregation are involved in a wide range of community organisations, ranging from Kildonan Museum and Ceolas Cultural Centre and Cothrom Education Centre and SHARE (thrift shop which reinvests its proceeds in the wider community). In fact often church members have been the ones who were instrumental in setting them up.
The church is not the buildings, the church is the people. Yet anyone who has visited South Uist knows that life and worship would be severely restricted without buildings that give shelter from storms, hail and rain.
At one time there were five churches under our care. In Iochdair, Howmore, Daliburgh, Lochboisdale and North Boisdale. In addition to that there were a number of Mission Houses and two manses. Gradually, now that roads are good and transport more easily accessible, we disposed of properties and today retain the church, hall and manse complex at Daliburgh and the church and small hall at Howmore.
Exposure to the sometimes ferocious weather means that all our buildings are in need of extensive repair and refurbishment and much of our attention and energy currently is directed to this so that we can entrust these places of worship to future generations.
Although Howmore Church was only built in 1859, it stands in direct continuity with churches and monasteries that were founded in Howmore since the 7th century. Much still needs to be done to bring together the information of this history in an easily accessible form and it is our aim to do so over the next few years.
At the time it was built central communion tables were the norm in Presbyterian churches in Scotland, but they have since fallen out of favour and were replaced in most churches with communion tables in the chancel area. Not so in Howmore! It is one of only a handful of churches in Scotland to retain its central communion table and members of the church as well as visitors joining us for the celebration of communion speak of the moving and transforming nature of the simple act of gathering around the table for the sharing of bread and wine.
The church and manse date from 1869 with the small hall added in the 1920s. Close to this site is also one of the island’s old mission houses which today offers a home to SHARE, a thrift shop, that reinvests its proceeds into the community of South Uist.
These buildings too require extensive repair and refurbishment. Our plan is to transform the former manse into a community facility as our minister lives in the manse of the neighbouring island of Barra.
Ministry and Eldership
The line of ministers serving South Uist Parish Church splits in two in the 1970s when the two separate parishes of Howmore and of Daliburgh united into one during the ministry of Rev Roderick Mackinnon. The previous parishes had each been served by a separate line of ministers.
South Uist shares with its neighbouring parish of Barra the distinction of being among the first in the Western Isles to call a woman to be its minister. Rev Jackie Petrie was born and brought up in Glasgow: trained for Diaconal ministry in Edinburgh and then worked in Dundee as a parish deaconess. Later she worked in the RAF in the same capacity. Following further study in Cambridge she was ordained to the ministry of word and sacrament and commissioned as a chaplain in the RAF. Here too she was a first, this time one of the first female chaplains in any of Her Majesty’s forces. This was followed by some years as Pastoral Director of a residential centre of Christian Healing in Dorset from where she then was called to be the first female minister of South Uist Parish Church.
South Uist also has the distinction of having been the first to ordain women to the eldership. The Kirk Session extended a call to serve the church in this way to Chirsty Laing from Lochboisdale, Margaret (AC) Macdonald from Daliburgh and Helen Maclean from Stilligarry. Since then Jane Macintyre from Lochboisdale and Isabel Macdonald from Loch Eynort have joined them.