Stornoway cinema sells out for first screening on Sabbath

An Lanntair arts cente and gallery in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis
An Lanntair arts cente and gallery in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis
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There was a full house at a screening of the new Star Wars film in the Western Isles on Sunday as locals were offered Sabbath cinema for the first time ever.

The move is part of a trial of Sunday openings at An Lanntair arts centre and gallery, a hub for the creative industries in Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis.

Bosses at An Lanntair launched the three-month experiment after a survey revealed demand for entertainment on what has traditionally been the day of rest.

Lewis and Harris are some of the last places in Scotland where the tradition of giving Sundays over to rest and religious observance has remained a strong part of life.

The situation has been changing slowly over the years, but many public facilities are still shut down on Sundays and certain activities are frowned upon.

Changes in recent years have seen Sunday flights and ferry services, as well as people being permitted to hang out washing and take part in some social activities. However, there has been an ongoing row with the local council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, over its refusal to open the public swimming pool.

An Lanntair, which also offers drop-in arts activities, will be open on the last Sunday of each month until March.

But church leaders have criticised the move, which they say is eroding the Christian way of life.

Reverend James Maciver, minister of Stornoway Free Church, says he has no objection to cinemas or family entertainment, but feels opening on Sundays is “an invasion” of the sacred day.

“The congregation certainly don’t support it and I think it’s quite a sad development,” he said.

“It’s not that we’re against the arts centre per se, or the arts, but we do regard the Lord’s Day and the observance of the Lord’s Day as part of the Christian culture of the island, and has been for generations. So we see the kind of thing they’re introducing there really as an invasion of the sanctity and the rest that is provided by the Lord’s Day.”

Support for the arts centre was expressed in posts on the Western Isles Secular Society’s Facebook page ahead of the screening.

“I was amongst the large happy crowd at the airport who applauded as the first passengers came off our first Sunday flight, and we vastly outnumbered the group of psalm singers outside the door in the car park,” wrote Avril Allen.

“I got the first Sunday ferry to leave Stornoway ...

“So, to stand up for freedom of choice – I’ll be there today. Just like I marched for gay rights and against clause 28 back in the day. It didn’t change my sexuality – it was about freedom of choice and basic human rights.”

Around 180 people were expected to attend the sold-out showing of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

As people arrived at the centre, a handful of protesters stood outside. One held a placard emblazoned with the words: “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy”.

An Lanntair chief executive Elly Fletcher said the organisation has “a strong commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, and to opening up access for all to the arts”.

She insisted the trial is “an audience research exercise” but will be used to decide on opening hours in the future.