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Home  >  Features  >  Remembering Lockerbie


AAIB - Crown Copyright
AAIB - Crown Copyright

Remembering Lockerbie

Friday December 21 2018

The Rev Mary Morrison remembers ministering in Lockerbie in the aftermath of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, 30 years ago today.

With a sigh of relief I got into the car. Another Selection School over! Another group of people assessed as suitable to go forward as candidates for ministry. It was almost Christmas, time for family and friends.

I switched on the radio. A Pan Am flight had fallen out of the sky near the Dumfriesshire town of Lockerbie.

At the time I was working with the team of Organisers for Evangelism in the Department of National Mission. There were five of us with an area of Scotland each. Our task was to meet Presbyteries and congregations and encourage them to become missionary, outward looking parishes. My area was the South of Scotland, Edinburgh, the Borders and Galloway. So I knew the little town of Lockerbie and the ministers serving there.

Many of the occupants of the plane were American students from the University of Syracuse, returning home for Christmas. Thus it was that soon the relatives were coming to see the place and identify their dead. All the ministers locally were involved in meeting them and trying to share their grief.

I found myself  travelling on Christmas Eve and on a few days after Christmas to Lockerbie and sharing in the listening ministry. I met Dr Swire, who later became a leader among the bereaved families seeking explanations and justice. At that time he was just a father who had lost a daughter Flora, full of promise. I too had a Flora and we talked of Skye, where his family had connections and which I know well. It was there that the remains of his Flora were eventually buried.

There were others who came with their grief and memories, and hopes dashed for their young people. Not all were American.There were some local people too. I will not forget the moment of standing by the enormous crater left by the bomb and up at Tundergarth on the hillside lay the nose cone of the plane. People were finding parts of bodies in their gardens.

Perhaps because it was Christmas, the words kept going through my head "Emmanuel. God is with us." We certainly needed God in Lockerbie and I doubt if the words were ever more meaningful.

Owing to Christmas holidays the Bible Society premises were closed, so I drew up my own list of what I considered helpful words of comfort, took them to the general shops where there was no difficulty in having them displayed, and they were very quickly snapped up by ordinary men and women seeking some kind of solace in their grief, and looking for meaning.

A year later the Rev Cameron Gibson, who was minister at Tundergarth where the nose cone came down, asked me to preach at the memorial service held in his country church. This I did using the Celtic Cross which, with its circle, points to light beyond darkness and life beyond death. I think many found it helpful, and I was glad to share a message of hope in the midst of tragedy and despair.

A “Walk of Peace” pilgrimage walk is being held tomorrow (December 22) to mark the 30th anniversary of the Lockerbie disaster. Scores of people are expected to silently climb Burnswark, an ancient and dramatic landmark south east of the Dumfries and Galloway town, to remember the 259 people who died.

The Very Rev Dr Alan McDonald, Moderator of the General Assembly in 2006, who has family links to the area, will take part in the walk.

The current Moderator, the Rt Rev Susan Brown, laid flowers at the Disaster Memorial during a recent visit to the town.

More on the Church of Scotland website