Church of Scotland minister travels Highlands in ‘mobile manse’

Rev Fiona Ogg, whose church in Kilchoan closed in 2018, at the door of her second-hand Fiat Ducato with her dog.
Rev Fiona Ogg, whose church in Kilchoan closed in 2018, at the door of her second-hand Fiat Ducato with her dog.
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They’re the vehicle of choice for surfers, old hippies and celebrities such as Robert De Niro and Formula One racing driver Jenson Button as they make their nifty way along remote highways and byways.

Now a Church of Scotland minister has hit the road in her campervan, clocking up thousands of miles in the Scottish Highlands while using the vehicle as a “mobile manse”.

Rev Fiona Ogg, accompanied by her Border Terrier Maisie, uses her trusty white Fiat Ducato campervan to visit her parishioners, whose homes are scattered over 131 square miles of Lochaber in the Highlands, often sleeping in it at the end of the night.

Rev Ogg, who leads the linked parishes of Acharacle and Ardnamurchan, with Ardnamurchan Parish Church being the most westerly parish church in the UK mainland, says inviting people into the campervan for a cup of tea or coffee and a chat or just for a look round is a real icebreaker.

“I bought the campervan second-hand in 2016 because I think it is important to be a visible presence in Kilchoan given the church building closed in October 2018 for health and safety reasons and the congregation meets in a community centre,” she said.

“If there’s an evening event followed by a morning one in Kilchoan, going back to the manse in Acharacle to sleep then returning is tiring, time consuming and pushes up travel costs. Having the van frees up the travel time for pastoral work and desk time.”

Rev Ogg travels between her churches most Sundays and once a week and has driven around 4,000 miles to date.

She said the “mobile manse” was “great fun to drive” and had gone down well with parishioners.

“Using it as a base is often an opening into conversation, but also means parishioners can stop me, or pop in, maybe just for a look around,” she said.

“They also stop for a chat when I’m walking the dog.

“One of the best days was going for a walk with someone on a rare hot, summer day, on a beach, and returning to the van to eat ice-creams we’d bought earlier and left in the freezer.

“The van is snug and cosy in the winter.”

Rev Ogg, who also uses her car for work, said her congregations were small in numbers, but active in their communities.

“At Kilchoan, where I use the van most, the congregation has a group offering hospitality to locals and visitors alike,” she said.

“During Advent, there will be two mince pie mornings when, for a couple of hours, guests will be welcomed at the manse/meeting room for coffees, teas, mince pies and a blether. Over the summer, there are weekly scone teas with the same purpose of hospitality and these draw a goodly number of locals and visitors alike.”

Rev Ogg said the congregation was holding a breakfast with café worship event in the local hotel in Kilchoan, an ecumenical carol service in the neighbouring parish and carols in Ardnamurchan ­Distillery.