My Installation as Pastor of Bluemont and Mayberry Churches

On Sunday, December 13, the Presbytery of the Peaks installed me as pastor. Normally, such worship services are filled with clergy from local churches, local politicians are invited, and there’s a big reception afterwards. Not this year. Not with COVID. First of all, we had to do it where we could maintain social distance. Neither church is large enough to have more than 40 people or so safely in worship. We were blessed when Meadows of Dan Baptist Church allowed us to hold the service in their sanctuary.

The Presbytery Commission with me (I’m second to the right)

The service is led by a commission that includes Ruling Elders and Teaching Elders (ministers) from area churches. The Commission included Ruling Elders Rick Rudolph and Mike Nyquist of Mayberry, Ruling Elder Libby Wilcox of Bluemont, Ruling Elder Sue Bentley of Northside Church in Blacksburg, the Reverend Bob McL. of the Presbyterian Church of Floyd, the Reverend Sara Jane Bush Nixon of New Dublin Presbyterian Church, and the Reverend Steve Willis, Vice Moderator of the Presbytery. While there was no singing due to COVID, instrumental music was provided by Joey Webster and Lil. Puckett.

The YouTube Link is to the entire service is below. Under that are the text of Sara Jane’s sermon on Exodus 3:1-11 and Matthew 16:13-18, the charge to me given by Bob, and the charge to the congregation by Libby.

Sermon by the Rev. Sara Jane Nixon

A long, long time ago, God’s people were in slavery. A long time ago, they were being threatened with extinction, literally, with the killing of their children and the death of their adults through long, hard labor. But before that, before their slavery, before they were a nation, before the foundation of the world, before anything that ever was or is or will be was made, God had laid the plan for their redemption. Long before time began, God planned for Moses. And through immense dangers, through genocide, through murder, through exile, God preserved him and kept him. And when the time was right, God got his attention through a burning bush. And he said to him, “Go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt.”

But despite all that effort, despite the plan that had been in place since eternity, despite the fact that we tell this story about Moses so many thousands of years later, it’s remarkable how little of this passage is actually about Moses. It’s the Lord who has seen the misery of his people in Egypt, the Lord who has come to rescue them, the Lord who has come to bring them into a good and spacious land, the Lord who has heard, the Lord who has seen, the Lord who sends. And when Moses asks why him, the Lord has nothing to say about Moses as a person. Nothing about how excellent his moral character is, nothing about his leadership qualities, his extroversion, his teaching abilities. None of that seems to matter. All God has to say on the subject is “I will be with you.” It’s not about Moses. It’s about God. 

And when Moses still has hesitations, still has doubts, God’s reassurance still doesn’t have anything to do with him. “But God, what if they ask me who sent me? What if they ask me, who is the God of our fathers?” God gives a cryptic answer at first: “Tell them ‘I AM’ is my name.” But then he explains further: He’s the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God the ancestors knew. He hasn’t forgotten, he’s still the same. 

Gallons of ink have been spilled over what it might mean for God to say that his name is “I AM.” But it at least seems to imply God’s active presence, active commitment to being the same God at all times and in all places. The God of the fathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – is I AM. The God of Moses and the Exodus is I AM. The God of the future is I AM. “This is my name forever,” says God, “the name you shall call me from generation to generation.” It’s a promise. Who am I? Says God. You’re gonna find out. You’ll find out by my faithfulness, my unfailing love, from generation to generation to generation forever. Whatever else changes, my faithfulness, my commitment, my love for my people will not. That’s how you’ll know me. From generation to generation. Forever. 

And they did. We did. Most of all through the birth and life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God and Son of God, firstborn of all creation, the Word from before the beginning who was made flesh and walked among us, full of grace and truth. But that self-revelation of God in Jesus is not always clear – not at all times, not for all people. It wasn’t even necessarily clear for the people who knew Jesus the best. It’s a secret – a mystery, in the biblical sense of the world. A biblical mystery isn’t like playing Clue,  where you’ve got to figure out who killed the butler in the library with a candlestick. It’s something you need to have revealed to you by someone else. It’s a secret you can’t know unless you’re told. 

And so when Peter comes out with his true and history-changing recognition that Jesus is the Christ, the true king of Israel, the Lord and God of the universe, who has come to rescue his people like a new and second and final Moses, Jesus praises him. Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! But he still doesn’t get the credit. 

He doesn’t know it by himself. It’s God who has revealed it to him, God who has made it known, God who has revealed the mystery of Jesus’s identity to him. 

And in recognition of the moment, Jesus changes Peter’s name. He makes a pun on the Greek words, “Petra,” rock, and “Petros,” Peter. Don’t ever let anyone tell you Jesus isn’t funny. “You are Petros, Peter, and on this Petra, rock, I will build my church.”

“Hey Rocky, I’m gonna build my church on this rock.” But the emphasis here still doesn’t fall on Peter. It’s not about what a great leader Peter is going to be. It’s not about how perfect he is – because spoiler alert, he absolutely was not. Peter becomes the Rock on which Jesus built and is building his church not because of who he was, but because of who Jesus is.

 Because Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and because God revealed that to Peter and enabled him to make that profession, Peter is the Rock. And if God has revealed it to you, and enabled you to make that profession, you’re a rock too, a rock that God is using to build his kingdom. And God makes a promise, too. He promises that he’s not building in vain. Even if the gates of death and hell try to overrun that kingdom – and they will – they won’t succeed. The God who promised to be there from generation to generation promises that nothing will stand in the way of bringing his kingdom to earth, making it, as we say, on earth as it is in heaven. 

Up till now, he’s kept that promise. He’s kept it through plagues and wars, through seismic shifts in the fabric of society, through more assualts of Hell’s gates than even the history books can keep up with. Despite all the odds, despite our enemies and more often than not our own stupidity, here we are. Despite these last nine months, here we are. Nothing is the same as it was. We could not have imagined our present last year, and next year is even more uncertain than usual. Here we are in an uncertain present, struggling into an unknown future.But even here – especially here – God delights to show us his faithfulness. He delights to open a new chapter and a new promise in your life, Jeff, and in your lives, Mayberry and Bluemont, in your new life together. The gates of Hades, the gates of Death, they’re raging. But from generation to generation,  God shows himself to be the God who is  with us here, wherever “here” is. And here in the Rock churches – made up of physical rocks, yes, but also the spiritual Rocks of those who make the proclamation that Jesus is the Christ, a new thing is happening. A pastor and two churches are coming together to live out that profession and the promises that follow it in a particular time – 2020 – in a particular community. You’re here as a pledge and a witness that even here, even now, God is building his kingdom. 

And of course, you’ve all got dreams, hopes, aspirations, expectations for your time together. Some of them are reasonable and right and achievable, some of them, undoubtedly, will turn out to be fantasy. Jeff isn’t going to manage to be a perfect pastor. 

Bluefield and Mayberry aren’t going to quite manage to be perfect congregations. 

But that won’t matter. Because just like Moses wasn’t really the point, just like Peter wasn’t really the point, y’all aren’t really the point either. The God who promised Moses that he would be I AM to his people from generation to generation, forever, has promised his presence to you as well. The God who promised Peter that the gates of death would not prevail against his church keeps his word to this day. Today, we’re celebrating a new beginning, a new chapter. But it’s a new chapter in an old, old story – the story of God’s faithfulness, his love, and his determination that we all will dwell with him in peace. And in his grace and his mercy, he’s chosen to work that out in you and in your community through your and Jeff’s ministry together, through the confession that Jesus is the Christ, through the small and everyday ways you’re building up rocks for the kingdom. It’s not going to be perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. God will be perfect for you, and from generation to generation, though all the gates of hell oppose him, he will not fail. 

So to the God of all grace, who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish far more abundantly than all we could ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, now and forever. Amen.

Charge to the Pastor by Rev. Robert G. McLavey

     Jeff, it is a joy and a privilege to welcome you to the neighborhood.  I came to Floyd—just down the parkway—a little over five years ago.  I, too, came from a large city—Denver, Colorado.  But it did not take long for me to feel at home in the beautiful surroundings of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The people here are wonderful, and the history is rich.  There is a faithfulness in the people, where you know that God has been at work for a long time, using some real pioneers who either grew up here or came here when the area was a pretty tough place.  But God’s grace is strong, indeed, and we are the beneficiaries of those who have come before us to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.  And that has been true throughout the history of Christ’s church.

     In the Apostle Paul’s letters to Timothy, Paul passes on to his spiritual heir the wisdom accumulated through a life of mission, ministry, and suffering for the gospel.  In 1 Timothy, chapter 6, Paul says, “But you, man of God,…pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith.  Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”  In the first chapter of 2 Timothy, Paul says, “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.  Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”  And, finally, in the fourth chapter Paul says, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:  Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”

     Jeff, let me suggest that in this day and age, being a minister of Word and Sacrament is not enough to ensure that Jesus is held up in honor and glory. Yes, preaching the Word and rightly administering the Sacraments are essential parts of our calling, but we also must be living examples of truth.  We must speak with love and authority.  We must call out false teachers who speak with hatred and hypocrisy in the name of Jesus.

     And to do all of this, Jeff, you must take care of yourself.  You need to be fed spiritually, you need to be diligent in getting rest and inspiration, be sure to spend quality time with your wife and family, and you must be certain to take time to be in solitude with God.  As you are surrounded by these beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, realize that God’s creation is yet another example of his majesty and another testament to his sovereignty.

     Jeff, by accepting a call to these congregations in this community, a great treasure is committed to your care.  The people you serve are the flock of Christ for whom he gave his life.  Therefore, I charge you to never stop loving Jesus the Shepherd, and never cease caring for his sheep.  Labor faithfully on their behalf and do everything in your power to bring all those entrusted to your care to mature faith and the knowledge of God.  Seek to be one with Christ in all you say and do.

     Let me leave you with this delightful thought.  All of us who have studied in seminaries and have prepared for ministry by pouring over books of great theologians have encountered the writings of Karl Barth, the renowned professor at the University of Basel in Switzerland.  He was the most prolific theologian of the twentieth century, and his theology was as complex as it was profound.  But when Barth visited the University of Chicago on a visit to the United States, and as students and scholars crowded around him at a press conference, someone asked, “Dr. Barth, what is the most profound truth you have learned in your studies?”  Without hesitation, he replied, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

     Jeff, may that be your greatest truth, as well.  Share it with your congregations and the world!

To the glory of God.  Amen.

Charge to the Congregations by Ruling Elder Libby Wilcox

 Friends in Christ, 

There are few words that can express my excitement for this celebration of installation.  As chairman of the PNC, my committee has worked for the past year to find just the right pastor for our churches. With God’s guidance, we have done just that.  Today, I come before you as an Elder, with the charge for both congregations. This day is full of hope for the future. We have discerned in Jeffery Garrison the gifts of preaching and teaching and have called him to serve among and with us. In the Congregational tradition, it is the body of Christ – all of us together – that blesses this installation to ministry. No bishop examines or consecrates this time. It is the spirit of God, through the witnessing congregation that declares the joyful discernment and call of Jeff Garrison as our minister. Your presence here today is a vital expression of our faith. 

But after this sacred celebration ends, then what? This day is not just about Jeff, it is about all of us and how we will partner with Jeff to do God’s work. 

No successful, transformative, healthy ministry is ever a one-person show. If church and pastor are to form a partnership that is strong and enduring, we must honor each other as Christ has already honored us. We are all in this together. Given this, I charge you as God’s gathered people at Mayberry and Bluemont Presbyterian Churches, with these things.

 First, as our years with Jeff unfold, expect to change. That is because the Spirit still broods over us, Christ still walks among us and God still calls us. As our relationship unfolds, time will continue to work changes because all authentic ministry changes us. Expect to be comforted by this as our minister establishes bonds of affection with us, but also challenged and confronted as well.

 Second, remember that we are all called together as the body of Christ for God’s great purposes.  Jeff is not a proxy for our work. God doesn’t need another fan club. God needs workers in the vineyard. Paul reminds us in Ephesians, there is one body and one Spirit and each of us was given Christian gifts…..some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teacher, not for personal glorification but so the saints would be equipped for the work of ministry for the building up of the body of Christ. (Eph. 4) This world, yea, this part of the world needs to know God’s love and grace through each of us. This is a partnership of people and pastor on behalf of a mighty and merciful God. We are embarking on holy work. 

Third, honor Jeff’s ministry. While this is a partnership, there is also a peculiar setting apart that happens when we grant a minister the privilege of our pulpit and he commits to this ministry before a trusting, yearning congregation.  Ministry can be lonely and often there is little to go on to know if you are making a difference. A pastor is more likely to hear the vocal complainers than the quiet supporters, and is under enormous pressure to wade into conflict with wisdom beyond human capability when it gets personal. So honor Jeff’s ministry. Pray for him. Contact him – notes, texts, phone calls, emails, however – contact him with words of encouragement. Thank him for being a preacher, pastor and prophet in our midst. And honor him by challenging him, asking for clarification, sharing your viewpoint. Be full, and real and honest in your support. 

The apostle Paul frequently began his letters with wonderful words of thanksgiving, as here in his letter to the Philippians:   “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.” Paul goes on to say, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.  It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me…”. 

 Indeed, today affirms once again that all of us are in God’s grace and are partners in the sharing of the gospel. With joy, thanksgiving and prayer, God’s good work will be manifest among us, if we give thanks for each other, honor each other, and remember that God has called us to this time and place for a reason. May you perceive this with the excitement and hope that only the Spirit can give and may our years together be marked with great faithfulness.  May God Bless all of us !

Aunt Callie’s Place

Francis Wilhoit was born in 1920. He was a little younger than my grandmother, and he died a number of years before her, in 2010, at the age of 90. I never met him (as far as I know), but my Grandmother used to always tell me that I reminded her of him. When I was in college, she gave me a copy of his book, The Politics of Massive Resistance, and I expect I’m the only one in the family to have read it. It deals with the white reaction to the Civil Rights Movement. Wilhoit was outspoken against racism at a time few Southerners were speaking up about the problems. He was a professor at Drake University in Iowa. Years ago my grandmother sent me a copy of a poem that he wrote about her childhood home. Callie McKenzie was her mother (my great-grandmother) and Kenneth was her father (my great-grandfather). Wilhoit wrote this poem in 1977, which was over a decade after my great-grandmother’s death and seven or eight years after my great-grandfather’s death. Now all from those generations are gone.

Unfortunately the spacing Wilhoit used in the poem was lost when I posted it in WordPress. I will have to see if I can get it corrected (but not tonight).

“Aunt Callie” is to the left. Next is my father and in front of him, my Uncle Larry. My great-grandfather Kenneth is holding me, and my grandmother is on the right. The picture was probably taken late 1957 or early 1958


“Out at Aunt Callie’s Place”
By F. M. Wilhoit

Based on a poem by James Whitcomb Riley
September 1977

Pleasant it was, O yes I know,
In the good old days in the glow
Of youth, when summer at last had come
And the call of the country beat like a drum,
And we went visiting, our hearts never glum
Out to Aunt Callie’s Place.

It all seems only yesterday!
Though I’m now aged and silvery gray—
Out in the country, by the side of the road,
We aimlessly wandered through Nature’s abode,
Not a fear in the world, not a care to unload,
Out at Aunt Callie’s Place

We tramped the lowgrounds and crossed the wood
Where many an ancient oak tree stood,
Where jack rabbits sprang from tall wiregrass,
And honeybees buzzed in a swarming mass,
And threatened to sting as we tried to pass,
Out at Aunt Callie’s Place.

And down to the house of Tom and Kate;
And up to the Garrisons’ vast estate;
And on to the Old Place, over to Culdee,
From tobacco labors happily free—
Our faith as firm as the tallest tree
Out at Aunt Callie’s Place.

Yes, I see her in the screened-in porch,
Her face as bright as a miner’s torch;
And Uncle Kenneth and the children too!
Wasn’t it great, for me and you,
To place among kinfolks, tried and true,
Out at Aunt Callie’s Place?

The apples, the grapes and the gingerbread
And the jams and cakes—O how we were fed!
And the corn in the peas and the deep berry pies—
It all seemed to me like Paradise;
And the more we’d eat the more she’d devise
Out at Aunt Callie’s Place.

In the old frame-house in the evening cool,
With supper done—as a general rule—
We’d take and talk and talk and talk
And listen to the crickets loudly squawk,
Or maybe join in a nighttime walk
Out at Aunt Callie’s Place.

And many a time have you and I—
Barefoot kids in those days gone by—
Built mighty castles in the summer sands,
Dreaming of far-off, strange new lands,
Knowing we’d all meet Life’s demands,
Out at Aunt Callie’s Place.

And O, my cousins, how the times have changed,
By age and progress all disarranged;
She’s waiting, though: a smile on her face,
Patient as ever, full of God’s grace,
Calling us back, with a spiritual embrace,
Back to Aunt Callie’s Place!


A few note (from me, not Wilhoit):

Wiregrass naturally grows under longleaf pines.

We lived several hundred feet east of “Callie’s Place” when I was a child (we moved when I was 6). I can attest that the bee’s my great-grandfather kept were known for their temperament and we always stayed away from the hives.

Culdee Presbyterian Church is the family church, which was located South of “Callie’s Place,” on the other side of the Lower Little River

My great-grandmother was known for her berry pies that she always baked in a wood-fired oven (there were two ovens in the house when I was a child, a gas range and a wood stove, and she mostly cooked and baked on the wood stove). She would set them out on the back porch (which was screened) to cool.

One memory of mine that Wilhoit must have forgotten was the nasty spittoon on the back porch and how my great-grandmother loved dip snuff and, I assume, my great-grandfather chewed tobacco. The spittoon was for when they had to spit it out.

All You Need to Know about the Kirkin

Notes on the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans

Bruce Ezell, ©2003
Introduction by Jeff Garrison
Jeff Garrison and his daughter Caroline

These questions and answers on the Kirkin come from Elder Bruce Ezell, an elder at Laurinburg Presbyterian Church (North Carolina). It was written as a primer for their Kirkin’ so that everyone (Scots and non-Scots alike) could understand the symbolism behind the service. I have slightly modified this list to fit our situation on Skidaway Island. This program is republished thanks to the permission from Laurinburg Presbyterian Church.  Photos are mine and have been taken at past Kirkin’ services at Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church.  -Jeff Garrison



Is the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan, an auld Scottish Rite? Many people are under assumption that the “Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan” is an ancient Scottish Church Ceremony. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. While based on Scottish legend and folklore, this ceremony is distinctly American. It traces its roots to the life and ministry of The Reverend Dr. Peter Marshall, a Scottish émigré. Dr. Marshal was a prominent minister in the Presbyterian Church, who served as the Chaplain to the United States Senate at the advent of World War II. In April 1941, while serving as the Pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, Dr. Marshall titled one of his sermons “Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan.” This name soon became attached to church services that celebrate with pride their Scottish heritage. While more commonly celebrated by Presbyterian and Episcopal Churches, today this celebration is utilized by a variety of Christian denominations for Scottish heritage events.


What was the origin of the Tartan? The exact origin of the Scots’ love of the tartan is shrouded in the mists of ancient times. According to one common and widely held legend, St. Margaret introduced the use of the Tartan for clan identification purposes. This was a way of achieving unity (a rare commodity in Scottish History) within diversity. The use of the tartan in a generic sense was for all Scots. The particular designs for clan and familial identity did not begin, however, until the nineteenth century. Margaret was a gentlewoman of noble birth, who planned a religious vocation. She was persuaded, however, by Malcolm, King of Scots, to become his queen. Malcolm was a boorish man; he was uncultured and illiterate. Margaret softened his harsh ways, and led him to be a better king. It was said of Margaret that she “admonished the wicked to become good and the good to become better.” She remains a revered figure in Scottish history.


Why was the tartan banned? The Scots and the English are very different people, with different cultural origins and different traditions. Even today, a Scot may speak, with a twinkle in his eye, of England as “the auld enemy.” During the long course of Scottish history, the Scots and the English were to make war against one another many times. For the Scots, there were times of freedom, beginning with the revolts of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, and times of subjugation. The last Scottish rebellion began in 1745, and ended in 1746 with the Battle of Culloden Moor, wherein the Scots led by “Bonnie adopted a policy of “cultural genocide.” This was known as the “Act of Proscription” of George II. The wearing of the kilt, the use of the Gaelic language, the ancient “clan system,” and all other elements of Scottish culture and nationalism were banned! These acts were meant to strip the Highland Scots of their cultural attributes, which further distanced them from their English speaking conquerors. While these bans remained in effect, memories of “things distinctly Scottish” were all but lost. Like warm embers from a long-dead fire, these Scottish traditions remained alive only in the memories of ancient grandparents. According to legend, during these trying times the Scottish people would secretly carry a small piece of their clan’s tartan to church on Sundays. Thus when the minister ended the service with the Benediction, that tartan was blessed and God’s favor was bestowed upon the Scottish people. King George III repealed the Act of Proscription in 1782. It was not until the 19th Century and the Reign of Queen Victoria, however that a renaissance of Scottish culture began. The Queen, strongly influenced by the romantic writings of Sir Walter Scott, sought to revive the wearing of the kilt and other Scottish traditions.


Why is the St. Andrew’s Cross Flag a symbol of Scotland? A white “X” shaped cross upon a blue field is known as the St. Andrew’s Cross flag. This standard is a symbol of Scotland. St. Andrew was one of Christ’s disciples. Andrew (known from only eight passages of scripture) is one of the more appealing figures of the twelve apostles. He seems to have possessed a boundless enthusiasm for bringing people to meet Jesus, yet he was content to remain in the background. According to a Christian (probably apocryphal) legend that dates from only the 14th Century, Andrew was executed. He was bound to a “Cross Saltire” (i.e: an “X” shaped cross) and crucified. In the 4th Century, some believe, his relics were transported to Scotland. St. Andrew is considered the patron saint of Scotland. St. Andrew’s Day dinners are commonplace among those who love Scotland, including the tradition of cooking “X” shaped shortbread cookies.


Why is the Rampant Lion Flag used at Scottish celebrations? A flag featuring a red “lion rampant” upon a yellow field is the royal ensign of Scotland, and thus used on state occasions when royalty is present. This royal standard is also flown from government buildings on official occasions. This flag, however, has recently been approved by the Lord Lyon for use at Scottish heritage and athletic events.


Why is the thistle a symbol of Scotland? Once upon a time, a long long time ago, the Scots were about to be invaded by their “auld and ancient enemies,” the Vikings. Once they landed, all Scots knew the Vikings would be hard to stop. If only their landing sites might be located, however, there was the slim hope that the Viking warriors might be stopped on the landing beaches. Alas, a fog drifted into the area and the Scots gave up all hope of identifying the invasion site. About this time, a barefooted Viking warrior set his foot upon a thistle and gave forth a loud cry. The Scots then rushed to the sound of the footsore warrior, and defeated the Viking force. Thus, it might be said that the thistle, a lowly weed, saved Scotland! As the Welsh revere their leek, the Scots revere the thistle. The thistle was used by the early Kings of Scotland as their personal heraldic crest and is borne by the Arms of the Realm and by a number of ancient Scottish Clans and families as a part of their individual coats of arms. In 1687, James II instituted the Order of the Thistle as a distinctly Scottish order of Knighthood. This order is now the oldest of all surviving British Orders.


Why are there drawings of wild geese on some ancient Christian drawings from Scotland? The wild goose was the Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it was the freedom of the wild geese that stirred the island-bound imaginations of the folk who lived in coastal Scotland to think of the Holy Spirit in this manner.

What is “The Kirk?” In Britain and Europe, Presbyterian Churches are usually known as “Reformed Churches.” In Scotland, however, our tradition is the established and sanctioned Church of the Government of Scotland. Thus our Christian tradition is known as “The Church of Scotland” [in the same manner that the “Church of England” is the Anglican (i.e. Episcopal) Church. The Church of Scotland is commonly known simply as “The Kirk.” The British people have always had a marvelous ability to compromise. While in England, Queen Elizabeth is considered as “Head of the Church of England.” While in residence in Scotland, however, Her Majesty is considered a member of the Church of Scotland, and is attended by Chaplains from The Kirk. Jesus Christ is considered the Head of the Church of Scotland.


What is a “Beadle,” and what service did he render the Kirk? During the Middle Ages and through the reformation, Bibles were rare among the common people. The Bible of the Kirk (i.e. the Church) was a treasured possession. The intrinsic value of the Holy Scriptures and the ever present possibility of theft led to the establishment of a special lay office known as the “beadle.” The beadle was usually elected by the Kirk Session, and he served for an indefinite period of time. The chief duty of the beadle was to preserve and protect the Kirk’s Holy Bible. His other duties sometimes included collecting fines, the summoning of accused parties to trial (before Session Court), and the issuing decrees of the Kirk throughout the parish. In some traditional Presbyterian Churches today, the beadle begins the worship service by carrying the Holy Bible ceremoniously into the sanctuary. On such occasions, the people rise in respect for the Holy Book and its Scriptures. The parishioners take their seats after the beadle has opened the Bible and prepared the pulpit for the advent of the minister.

Why does one observe Celtic Crosses in Presbyterian Churches? Throughout Scotland and Ireland, one may observe ancient Celtic Crosses in Churches and Christian Cemeteries. These crosses feature a scalloped cross, which is superimposed upon a circle. Modern Celtic Crosses feature long arms, but the ancient Celtic Crosses had short, stubby arms. The imposition of the cross upon a circle represents “Christ’s dominion over all the world.” Most Celtic Crosses feature elaborate decorations of intertwining vines and flowers rendered in bas-relief along their edges. If one traces these intertwining vines, you discover they are generally interconnected one to another.


Why are Psalms sung during the Scottish Heritage Worship Service? The Scots were among the last Christian Churches to adopt the singing of hymns! Until recently, the members of The Kirk sang only metrical Psalms for their church services. Indeed, the singing of hymns was considered by more than one wizened old Scot as the “invention of the devil.” Metrical Psalms are Psalms slightly altered to fit the meter of the melody. The musical psalms for today’s worship service are metrical Psalms, or music inspired by a particular Psalm. In the 18th and early 19th Centuries, American Churches along the frontier did not have Psalters from which to sing. They would have a literate person, known as the precentor “line” the Psalm. This leader would sing one line of the Psalm, and then the congregation would follow singing the same line. Then the leader would sing (or “line”) the second line. This procedure would continue until the entire Psalm has been sung. If there was no sermon on that day (as ministers were rare on the frontier), the worship service was simply known as a “Sam Sing” (sic.). Psalm 23, set to the tune “Crimond,” deserves special note. It is to the Scots what “God Bless America” is to Americans. It is sung at almost all memorial occasions in Scotland.

For the original publication of these notes, click here.