Wee Frees told to ‘cheer up’ by own magazine

By Auslan Cramb, Scottish Correspondent

Last Updated: 3:46am GMT 14/01/2008

Members of a famously dour Presbyterian church have been urged by their official magazine to “lighten up”.

For decades the ultra-Conservative Free Church of Scotland has been caricatured as gloomy and depressive, only truly content when it is opposing Sunday ferry services or chaining up play park swings on the Sabbath.

The Calvinist church is most strongly represented
in the west Highlands of Scotland

The central tenet of its faith is the fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”, and one minister caused outrage when he said the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 in which 226,000 people died was sent by God to punish “pleasure seekers from all over the world” who broke the Sabbath.

However, the God-fearing members of the Calvinist church, most strongly represented in the islands and west Highlands, are now being urged to express what the editor of the monthly magazine calls “serious joy”.

The Rev David Robertson, editor of the Monthly Record, said worshippers needed to dispel the notion that Wee Frees, as they are nicknamed, are characterised by “doom, gloom and joylessness”.

As part of its bid to shed its fire-and-brimstone image, the church has endorsed the Harry Potter stories, as well as the fantasy movie The Golden Compass, both of which have been denounced as “ungodly” by some Christian groups.

Mr Robertson wrote: “The definition of a Calvinist as being a person who is miserable at the thought that someone somewhere is actually enjoying themselves is sadly all too typical.

“In the Free Church I’m afraid that we are not good at joy in worship. So much of our worship has no soul, no spirit and very little joy.”

Mr Robertson said his fellow clergymen were often lampooned with some justification as being like the late Rikki Fulton’s lugubrious TV clerics, the Rev IM Jolly and the Rev WE Free.

He added: “They are caricatures, but sadly they are popular because they reflect a common understanding.

“Religion, especially of the Scottish Presbyterian kind, is doom, gloom, blackness, depressive and joyless. Let congregations pray, think and act in order to deal with the sin of joyless worship.

“This is not a plea for frivolity, flippancy or entertainment – ‘fun’ worship. But please can we have some serious joy.”

Mr Robertson, who recently took over the editorship of the traditionally staid magazine, said Presbyterians should rejoice rather than recoil at the success of the Harry Potter series and The Golden Compass.

“The Potter books are popular because they are immensely enjoyable,” he said.

“JK Rowling has no aim other than to write good stories which are actually moralistic, and in the tradition of all good fairy tales, about the battle between good and evil.

“In terms of attacking the Christian world view they are a lot less dangerous than Neighbours or EastEnders.”

Mr Robertson said on Sunday that the reaction to his liberal stance had been largely positive.

However, his call for cheerier congregations and ministers has not met with universal approval.

One reader wrote to cancel his subscription and accused Mr Robertson of “endorsing witchcraft”.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2008/01/14/nchurch114.xml

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