Kirkin o' the Tartans service to honor Presbytery heritage

October 23, 2011 12:02:00 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


On Sunday, Oct. 30, the beautifully plaintive song of the bagpipe will call the congregation of Columbus' First Presbyterian Church to worship at the "top of the hill" on Bluecutt Road. 


For the fifth consecutive year, the church will hold a Kirkin o' the Tartans service, a special observance to honor its Scottish heritage.  


"We're remembering our history and our spiritual ancestry," said the Rev. Tom Bryson of First Presbyterian.  


Scottish clergyman John Knox (1514-1572) was a leader of the Protestant Reformation, studying with French/Swiss theologian John Calvin and bringing those teachings back to his home country.  


Kirking(from the Scottish Gaelic word kirk which means church) in this context means blessing. While the kirking service itself is a Scottish-American custom, stories abound of its possible roots. 


According to legend, Highlanders who were banned by Great Britain from the wearing of tartan kilts (among many other prohibitions) after the Jacobite rising of 1745 would hide bits of their clan tartans to bring to church to be secretly blessed. 


Centuries later, the Rev. Peter Marshall of Coatbridge, Scotland, was pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., and served as chaplain of the U.S. Senate. He is believed to be the originator of the Kirkin o' the Tartan service in the 1940s. 


Like many churches that observe this service, Fist Presbyterian plans theirs for Reformation Sunday, the last Sunday of October each year. It will begin at 11 a.m. The kirking, accompanied by prayer, scripture and sermon, is open to everyone. 






Members of the congregation and guests are encouraged to wear "their colors" -- tartan cloths, ties, or even kilts, in the plaid pattern associated with a particular clan, if they wish. 


Tom Richardson wears a tie of the Cameron tartan, thanks to ancestry on his mother's side. As a scholar of Scottish literature, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Mississippi University for Women, and his wife, Emma, who teaches English, Creative Writing and Southern Writers courses at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, travel frequently to Scotland. 


"(The service) is important because it reminds of us of both our theological and our personal heritage," said Richardson. 


Church member Kacky Lines is of the McGregor clan. She considers herself fortunate to have traveled to the Highlands with the Richardsons, when that couple arranged for the church choir to perform in Scotland. It makes the annual Kirkin o' the Tartans even more meaningful. 


"We learned so many things. It was so excellent, so rewarding," Lines said, going on to describe the moving procession of banners and the music of bagpiper Tim Gordon, of Carthage, that will begin First Presbyterian's service Oct. 30.  


While the Rev. Bryson's last name is French in origin, his mother's maiden name is Buchanan, a name rich in Scots clan history. He, however, will wear a kilt of the traditional clergy tartan. It was a gift two years ago from two members of the congregation, Beth Feland and Margaret Lester, who is now deceased. 


"The service is open to anyone who would like to come," said Bryson. "Everyone is asked to celebrate their family name -- Scottish or not. It's just a wonderful day, with beautiful music." 


For more information about the Kirkin o' the Tartans service, contact the church office at 662-328-5992.

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.