North Sea Waves

By John Ellis


Aberdeen Harbour

My most northerly moderatorial trip to date has been to Aberdeen. Shipbuilding is finished and the fishing fleet much diminished but the harbour remains noisy and active thanks to the offshore oil and gas industry. Nearby the Maritime Museum spreads into a former Congregational Chapel and shows how North Sea oil has transformed the Scottish economy. The technological achievement is on a vast scale and has been accompanied by entrepreneurial and safety risks, sometimes with tragic consequences.


St Nicholas Uniting Church

The latter were one incentive behind constructing the remarkable and moving Oil and Gas Industry Chapel in the north transept of the city’s historic St Nicholas Church. The chair backs are made of many layers of different woods so they look like the geological layers under the seabed; but the initial letters of the names of the woods spell out in order “We remember you”. At the very top of the window is the Eagle of St John with a barrel of oil in its talons. St John not only wrote a Gospel but is also, I learnt, the Patron Saint of Oil Refiners.


Oil & Gas Chapel Chairs


St John’s Eagle carrying precious oil










St Nicholas Church is double-ended and once accommodated two congregations worshipping at either end. The impressive Georgian space of the former West Kirk is now home to a united Church of Scotland and URC congregation. They proved most hospitable to the British Church Leaders visiting the Scottish National Party Conference for the first time.


Callum McCaig, MP for Aberdeen South, discusses the oil price

From their respective standing ovations it was hard to tell whether Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, or her predecessor, Alex Salmond, is the Patron Saint of the SNP. The Party’s economic brains, the under-stated John Swinney, completes an impressive political triumvirate. None of them, though, can ignore the barrel of oil. Local MP and the Party’s energy spokesman at Westminster, Callum McCaig, was determinedly upbeat about the long term prospects for the oil industry, despite the doubts of some party members, and he needs to be right if the more ambitious social targets of the SNP are to be realised. For this Conference, however, the mood was more one of celebration than analysis.

We were particularly glad to meet Dave Thompson, MSP for 4,500 square miles of rural Scotland, one of whose constituents is the Loch Ness Monster. A former Baptist now in the Church of Scotland, he is unashamed to speak of his Christian convictions and is a staunch supporter of the regular prayer meetings held in the Scottish Parliament building. He is an instigator of Christians for Independence and of a Holyrood All Party Group on Religious Freedoms. He noted that over 20% of the SNP’s MPs and over 15% of all MSPs were practising Christians, which are higher proportions than in the population as a large. The commitment of Christians to be salt and yeast in politics continues.

And for displaying God’s creation, there are few more glorious railway journeys in Britain than a ride up the Scottish coastal line over the Forth and Tay Bridges, via Dundee and Arbroath, to the Granite City.

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