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Church pays homage to tradition forged by Americans during WWII

Flo Johnston Faith in Focus

April 3, 2014

No doubt about it, those Scottish folks who migrated up the Cape Fear and settled in the Scotland County area brought more than their traditions, work ethics and appetites to this part of the New World.


They brought also their church. Just take a count of the Presbyterian congregations, at least one dating to the late 1700s, in the area that are still calling members to worship on Sunday mornings.


As the final event during St. Andrews’ 25th Scottish Heritage Weekend celebration, Laurinburg Presbyterian for the 12th year will include the Kirkin’ O’ Tartans in its 11 a.m. worship on Sunday.


Although some like to think this event in which Scottish clans fly their tartans (banners) is some kind of ancient ceremony customary in Scotland before the great migration of Scots to America, but this is not so.


It is a uniquely American tradition that began during the early years of World War II, when Dr. Peter Marshall, a native son, was pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian in Washington, DC. He was also chaplain of the U.S. Senate and a member of the Saint Andrew Society.


During the war, the Saint Andrew Society of Washington began to hold services of prayer for people in Britain. These services continued in the Washington area and soon came to be known as “the Kirkin,”an annual event of the society. Today, the ceremony is held in the Washington National Cathedral each year on a Sunday near St. Andrews Day.


The actual history rather than the myth about the Kirkin’ does not in any way reduce the beauty, the pageantry, the significance and meaning of this event that has become an annual custom in many Presbyterian churches across the country.


Expect to see an array of colorful plaids when Bill Caudill, director of the St. Andrews University Pipe Band, pipes the procession of about 70 carrying clan tartans into the sanctuary on Sunday.


The procession will include families at Laurinburg Presbyterian like clans MacDonald, MacInnis, MacKenzie, MacLaurin, MacMillan, MacRae, MacLeod, MacIntosh, MacClure and MacLean, to name a few, as well as visitors.


All Scots do not have “Mac” names, however, and not every Scottish family name has a clan tartan. Many of the larger families exist as clans and have their own distinctive tartan plaid while others are simply associated with that clan. For example the Scottish names Allan, Bowie, Buie, and Pratt are associated with and called “septs” of Clan Grant.


While all this pageantry may rouse the slumbering DNA of Scots among us, if you do not share this ethnicity, that’s OK, too.


On this point, here’s an observation from Dr. Jim Monroe, a retired General Presbyter in the Presbyterian Church USA.


“To avoid the exclusion of any national or religious heritage, in many Presbyterian congregations the Kirkin’ is looked upon as a celebration of religious heritage and the prayer of the blessing of the tartans has become more a thanksgiving for our varied heritage and a prayer for the blessing of the families,” he said.


The Rev. Neal Carter, pastor at Laurinburg Presbyterian, said that the Kirkin’ usually draws a large congregation, including regular church members as well as visitors from around the area and some from among those attending the Scottish Heritage Weekend at St. Andrews.


“This is a special service that I look forward to leading,” the pastor said. “It’s a service that reminds us all that families are the children of God.”


Getting personal:


Mine is a Scottish family that still has close ties to Scotland. Our ancestral home, Foulis Castle, is located about four miles out of Dingwall, a small town near Inverness in the Highlands.


Our clan chief lives in “The Mains,” the main farmhouse on the estate, near the castle, where his mother, the widow of the late Chief Patrick Munro, still lives.


The drafty old castle built in the 1100s has been renovated, but before renovation had 17 rooms and one bathroom. It also includes an apartment that is available to clan members who wish to spend a period of time in the area.


Mrs. Munro, known to her friends as Timmy, and the late Queen Mother of England were close friends. Once a year, usually in August, the Queen Mum and her dogs would visit Foulis for tea so she and the Chief’s wife could pick up the conversation where they left off the previous year.


Chief Hector Munro, who farms the 1,300 acres of Munro land, grows barley that is sold to distilleries in the area.


He and his family welcome a herd of Munros from the U.S. who come calling every five years when the clan gathering is held in Scotland. During other years, the Munros graciously receive family members from around the world who may drop in for a chat and a dram while visiting Scotland.


Clan Munro USA always schedules a Kirkin’ ceremony in one of the local churches when the clan gathers in Scotland. Scottish relatives just smile and endure, for this is something they lay no claim to having invented or even understand for that matter!


For visitors to Laurinburg Presbyterian on Sunday: The church is located at 600 W. Church St. The building has many doors, but the easy way to enter is to come in from the parking lot located in back. Follow the long hall that will take you to the sanctuary. The church, handicap accessible with an elevator, offers plenty of parking.


See you in church!


Contact Flo Johnston at flo.johnston314@gmail.com or call 910-361-4135.