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Friday November 3 2017

Camping With the Campers

Written in 1937, an account of the Church of Scotland's presence among campers at Lunderston Bay, on the Firth of Clyde.

Lunderston, 1937
By the Rev. John Turner, M.A., Inverallochy and Rathen East


FOR the Padre at Lunderston Bay, that is perhaps putting it nicely, for the years have brought their changes. Gone for him are the days when in the old bell tent he sought for a dry place amidst rivers of water. Now a snug wireless room and ship’s deckhouse make warm and watertight quarters and give an air of trim authority to the Church of Scotland headquarters.

To the thousands who motor down that lovely roadway that passes by the Cloch to Inverkip and Largs, Lunderston is always a sight worth pausing a moment to view. Ideally situated on a glorious bay fronting the Cowal shore it has for constant interest the busy traffic of the river, the lovely sight of yachts racing, the stately glory of a liner’s passing, the sleeping beauty of the Arran hills, the glitter of the myriad fairy lights of Dunoon’s carnival season.

But the people who stop with looks of envy are thinking not so much of these things but of these friendly tents wide open to the sunshine, offering a glimpse of comfort and happiness. And for many of them it means a warming of the heart to find in the centre of everything the marquee and tramcar bearing their proud banner, Church of Scotland, and to see waving over this huge encampment the flag of St. Andrew.

That is true symbol of the life of the camp. Though Padre and staff are simply campers on the same footing as the others, the Church has come to be the very soul and centre round which Lunderston depends. Many and varied are the tasks which come the way of the Padre. He finds himself in the unusual rôle of camp postman, credited with an infallible knowledge of the 1400 souls in his temporary charge. All sorts of lost things are brought, even children for whom mothers have to be found in that bewildering city of tents.

You can understand the gratitude for the many services rendered by the Church if you recollect our Indian summer as it happened this July. The Cowal shore was invisible. The Arran hills were a memory. Mothers were frantic, for in spite of the afore-mentioned comfort of these tent dwellings there were too many children in one room. Can you think what it meant that there was room, and plenty to gladden the heart for these children in the marquee, games and singing and drill there until the sun shone again.

Or what a difference it made on these nights when the wind felt like chill November that a minute’s run brought Jeannie to the tramcar with the request “a nice love story for my mother, and a book for myself,” and Padre did his best. One could hardly credit the number of calls that are made on our hardworking medicals. Every year has brought out its case which, but for speedy and skilled attention on the spot, would have proved dangerous if not fatal.

But to see the real work of the Church at Lunderston you have to be part of a happy company of children lifting the morning praise to God. How wonderful to sing it there, squatted on the sands:

Wide, wide as the ocean,
High as the heaven above,
Deep, deep as the deepest sea is my Saviour’s love.

Or who that was present will readily forget the beauty of the evening worship one July night. It was the sunset hour, and the smell of pinewoods was all about us, and we sang in closing, “Abide with me.” We had meant to sing one verse, but we sang it all, and they listened at their tent doors – “In life and death, O Lord, abide with me.”

Yes, it was gloriously worth while to camp with the campers. Here we found neither antagonism nor indifference although many were lapsed from the Church. They were ready to take many things from us, when we spoke to them in the name of Him who Himself walked by the sea and led people from the beauty of the lilies to the beauty of holiness.

Last week: the faith of Scottish miners

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