A Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan worship service Sunday, Oct. 30 at First Presbyterian Church in Columbus will honor Scottish roots of early Presbyterianism.
“We’re remembering our history and our spiritual ancestry,” said the Rev. Dr. Tom Bryson who pastors the church located at 3200 Bluecutt Road.
The Scottish Gaelic word kirk means church, and kirkin’ or kirking in this context denotes a blessing. Tartans — cloths in plaid patterns associated with particular Scottish clans — represent families.
Ancient clans were kinship groups in Scottish society, people bound together for protection and economic, political and social support. Clansmen demonstrated a true brotherhood, and the tartan is a symbol of that bond.
The Oct. 30 service encourages participants to reflect with thanksgiving on their own families and ethnic heritage, and to celebrate God’s grace. Those attending are invited to wear tartan cloths, ties or kilts, if they wish.
“Or wear anything that reminds them of their family heritage, because it’s not just Scottish, but also German, Irish, French … all over, because this is a blessing of all families,” said Bryson, who will wear the Clergy Ancient tartan, one adopted for men of the cloth.
Congregation member Pauline Crouse was born in Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh, and grew up in Aberdeen, Scotland. She will read the “Blessing of the Tartans” during the service.
“It’s a lovely prayer. I’m really looking forward to being part of this tradition,” said Crouse, who moved to the United States in early 2013, settling in Mississippi with husband Lee Crouse, who is on the faculty of Mississippi University for Women.
“My father’s from Ohio, so I thought I might end up in America one day, but I never imagined it would be the South,” said Crouse, with the lilt of native Scotland in her voice. “People are so friendly here.”
Her first kirking will be even more special as the Crouses’ son, 5-month-old Benjamin Lewis Crouse, will be baptized that day.
While the kirking celebrates Scottish heritage, its origins are credited to the Scots-American preacher Peter Marshall, back in 1943. During World War II, while pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., Marshall delivered a sermon entitled Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan, to raise funds for war relief. In the decades since, the service has spread across America.
Stories abound about the kirking’s possible roots. Scottish people were not always free to wear their tartans. Great Britain’s Act of Proscription, in effect from 1746 to 1782, made wearing “the Highland Dress” illegal. Some Scots, it is said, resorted to hiding a piece of their tartan in their Bibles or somewhere on their person to bring to church to be secretly blessed.
Like many churches that observe this service, Fist Presbyterian holds its kirking on Reformation Sunday, the last Sunday of October each year. It will begin at 11 a.m. and includes Tim Gordon on bagpipes, scripture, prayer, music and a sermon.
“The service is open to anyone who would like to come,” said Bryson. “Everyone is asked to celebrate their family name — Scottish or not.”
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.