Angus and elma
By Lesley Riddoch
A month ago I wrote about the sad death of Angus Morrison from Valtos on Uig. I first met tall, softly-spoken Angus Kenneth (to use his Sunday name) and his twinkling wife Elma in 2007, when Maxwell MacLeod and I stayed at their B&B on the lovely, remote west coast of Lewis near the border with Harris. We were recording material for a Radio Scotland programme, On the Bike and later I wrote a book about the experience, Riddoch on the Outer Hebrides. Max and I planned to stay for just one night but eventually stayed for three — such was the warmth, humour and support offered by the Morrisons to their noisy, demanding guests. I went back to stay with the couple several times in the years that followed – hauling initially doubtful family members to share the delights of long walks and swims on nearby Uig beach, the Gala Day and a ceilidh at the local hall. Most of all I loved the Morrisons’ insatiable appetite for stories. No matter what time of day and night, Angus and Elma lit up at the prospect of hearing well-told yarns about the day past and had a fount of stories about their own long lives on the Western Isles. Angus died suddenly in Raigmore Hospital on February 1st after complications following surgery. He was 70. That was shocking enough for Elma and their children Christina, Angus , Donald Calum and Cathie Margaret who were all with Angus during the final days at Raigmore. But more unexpected difficulties lay ahead.
Once home, Elma contacted an elder at her church – the Free Presbyterian Church at Miavaig, Uig — to arrange the funeral. Elma had been an adherent for 47 years (attending church but not taking communion) – Angus for 70. The Church currently has no minister – there are only two Ministers covering four Free Presbyterian congregations on Lewis. So Elma asked if Angus’ cousin and retired Church of Scotland Minister, Rev Willie Macleod from Barvas could conduct the funeral. The couple had agreed that if Rev Macleod was alive when either of them passed on, Willie would be the man to officiate. He had known four generations of Angus’ family. Indeed, Willie remembered meeting Angus’ great grandmother when he was just a lad of five. Anyway, the elder said the Rev Macleod would be made welcome and Elma relaxed. But later that evening Reverend Allan MacColl from Ness called – Uig’s interim moderator. His message was abrupt. He was sorry but couldn’t allow the family to use a Church of Scotland minister to preach. Elma explained the family connection and the agreement between the couple and said the Rev MacLeod was “a gracious, godly man” Allan would doubtless enjoy meeting. The Minister replied that the Free Presbyterian church couldn’t allow a Church of Scotland Minister to preach on their premises because of the Kirk’s support for gays and lesbians. Elma pointed out the funeral was a private family affair and that the church was – after all — only bricks and mortar. The Rev MacColl held firm. He asked if Elma would still come to hear him preach. Elma replied; “You’ll never see me again inside a Free Presbyterian Church” to which the Reverend said, “You will come and listen.” She hung up.
Elma’s next call was to the local Church of Scotland who told her she was welcome to use their church. So Angus’ funeral was finally held in Uigean Church of Scotland, Miavaig on February 6th with the church full to overflowing. Elma reckons there were almost 300 people present including the twelve-strong congregation of the Free Presbyterian Church. The turnout wasn’t surprising since Angus was well known in fishing circles across the islands as part-owner and skipper of the “Sovereign.” It was by all accounts a marvellous, knowing and intimate service led by Rev Willie Macleod. The night before, another long-standing family friend and Free Church Minister — Rev Kenny I. Macleod from Stornoway – led prayers at the wake. It was also held in the Miavaig Kirk. None of the Ministers or elders from the Free Presbyterian Church has since been in touch — in stark contrast to Elma’s neighbours, friends, family – and new congregation members at the Church of Scotland.
I knew nothing about all this until I went up to visit Elma in Uig last week. You’d think a grieving widow might want to avoid any further friction – instead Elma wants other islanders to know how the Free Presbyterian Church handled the worst hours of her life. She told me; “I went to church twice on Sundays and once on Wednesdays — health permitting. I looked after the building for the past 12 years. I did the hoovering, dusting and cleaning – and that was all fine. But this – is just a slap in the face. No Christian names are used at a Free Presbyterian funeral. Angus would have been called ‘the deceased’ throughout — and I’d be ‘the widow.’ There’s no warmth, no compassion in their services.”
It seems Free Presbyterian numbers on Lewis have been dwindling since the former Lord Advocate, Lord Mackay of Clashfern was suspended as an elder for attending the Roman Catholic funeral masses of fellow judges. But Elma has been torn between competing loyalties even more harshly. She has lost a wonderful husband and life partner. Did Elma have to lose her church too?