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Friday October 22 2021

Looking Back: The Church and the Highway

A story from 1938 about a group leading open-air Christian worship among young hikers and cyclists


The Church and the Highway

By The Rev. D. S. MacGillivray, M.A.

A SCOTTISH Youth Hostel is a cheerful place in which to spend a night. At any of the hostels near the cities of the east or west you may find yourself among a light-hearted, cosmopolitan crowd, made up, may be, of half a dozen nationalities – industrial apprentices, office workers, students, young men and women in their ‘teens and twenties.

Members cook their own meals on the common-room fire, sing their own songs, and sleep the sleep of those who have enjoyed a lungful of good fresh air. At week-ends the hostels in reach of Glasgow or Edinburgh are filled to capacity.

Among those ‘adventurers’ in the open air there has grown up within the last few months a Christian Fellowship. Its name is ‘Christian Highway’, and its purpose is to uphold the belief and deepen and extend the comradeship. One has got to realise the essential physical and mental benefit of this open-air movement that is capturing many thousands to-day, if one is to grasp that it is a field in which the spiritual can rightly be sought and cultivated, even in what may appear to be new and unorthodox ways. And if such in fact they are, it is because these ways of worship are in closer harmony with the movement itself.

Frankly, the atmosphere and the surroundings of the inside of many a kirk are in a different key to the fellowship and landscape of hostel life. This is not necessarily a criticism of either, but simply a statement of the disharmony, of the existence of two melodies in different keys.

Christian Highway has proved, what some may have been inclined to doubt, that those who go away for week-ends in this way in summer are not all pagans. Since June of this year a service has been held in the open air, come rain come sun, at one hostel or other, each Sunday before members have set off for the day. With perhaps half a dozen or more Christian Highway members in the hostel overnight to form the nucleus of the gathering, the numbers have been added to four, five, sixfold by others who have joined, and that with only a printed card stuck on a convenient tree or post to give notice, and the glimpse of a Christian Highway badge on some-one’s lumber-jacket indicating that some kindred soul is in the place.

There are others besides members of the Scottish Youth Hostel Association who are members of Christian Highway. It includes among its number groups of young Church members who at times go off, on Sundays or week-ends, on cycles or on foot, into the country. These attend worship according to their own arrangement; but, together, they have been responsible for at least one new venture. On Sunday, 21st August, they made the arrangements for, and were present in large numbers at, a service and rally held at Arrochar, to which all others of the hiking and cycling fraternity then in the district were invited. This service was conducted by the Rev. W. F. Wills of Arrochar, an afternoon service elsewhere preventing the Rev. R. D. E. Stevenson of Tarbet also from being present.

Christian Highway is not another organisation. It is simply a uniting link and an active witness, with a badge, and a monthly news bulletin, and a common interest, for those city folk whose feet are often set towards the country highway.

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