Religious Beliefs and Practices. Both Catholicism and Protestantism are practiced in the Highlands. Evangelical Protestantism came in the early nineteenth century. It is associated with the breakup of the clan and opposition to the System of laird-appointed ministers of the Church of Scotland. The Free Church broke from the Established Church (Presbyterian) in 1843 over the issue of land reform. It has become the church of the people and has the largest number of adherents. The Church of Scotland has a smaller number of parishioners and tends to be the church of those with official power. On Lewis, the three principal churches are the Free Church of Scotland, the Established Church of Scotland, and the Free Presbyterian Church. The Free Church is the largest, but the Free Presbyterian is perhaps the most influential regarding community sentiment. It espouses the Calvinistic doctrine of self-denial, otherworldly orientation, and the notion of the elect. The elect are those chosen by God. The church offers the greatest single social outlet for women, who otherwise lead a life largely restricted to the household. Women are also a majority in both the Free Church and the Church of Scotland.
Catholic and Protestant communities vary in their involvement in social issues. The Protestants are most active. In Protestant communities the rates of alcoholism and mental disorders are highest.
Medicine. Medical care is provided by local physicians under the National Health system. For those illnesses or accidents outside the capability of local health-care units, patients are transported to regional or national hospitals. The aging of the population has led to greater demand for Home Help Services and a large percentage of social-service funding is allocated for this government program. Home Help provides services for the aged and infirm who are unable to take care of themselves, and it provides employment for women who might otherwise be ineligible for other support.
Death and Afterlife. In Catholic Barra, when death is imminent, the priest is called to deliver the last rites, after which the close relatives maintain a constant vigil. After death, the responsibilities for the funeral are assumed by the oldest able-bodied male relative. Women usually volunteer to wash and clothe the body. Some social activities may be curtailed for the period between death and the funeral. Usually this includes the neighborhood of the deceased as well as close Family members. Pallbearers are male. The eldest responsible male walks in front of the casket; the eldest responsible female follows the casket. Catholics and Protestants are buried in the same cemetery.