"As I call your clan, please stand up,” said Bruce Barclay.
So began “Scot’s Sunday, Kirkin’ O’ the Tartan” at the First Presbyterian Church in Batavia. Scot’s Sunday was a special morning service celebrating the Presbyterian Church’s Scottish heritage.
Barclay, a member of the Rochester Scottish Heritage Society, read the last names of First Presbyterian’s Scottish families (or “clans”) before closing with: “And finally, Clan Dia — the family of God — which is everybody else.”
At this, the rest (and the majority) of the congregation joyfully rose.
This was the first year Scot’s Sunday was celebrated at First Presbyterian, but the tradition goes back to 1941. The Rev. Dr. Peter Marshall, pastor of Washington’s New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, designed the service “to give solace for British military personnel stationed in Washington, D.C. during World War II” (quoted from event pamphlet).
The service opened and closed with bagpipe music from members of the Rochester Scottish Pipes and Drums Band and included a Scots-Gaelic hymn, a question-and-answer session between the children and one of the bagpipers, and a special prayer for the “mother church” in Scotland.
While the ethnic roots of the church are important, Scot’s Sunday illustrated the Presbyterian heritage in yet another way. The service coincided with the first Sunday in Advent, which for Christians is a season of hope in God’s promises.
“I think the heart of Presbyterianism is seeing that the Holy Spirit is always working with us and calling us to change,” said Rev. Roula Alkhouri, pastor of First Presbyterian. “We look forward to the New Year and we celebrate what God is doing in the world.”
Rev. Alkhouri sees the highlights of Scottish culture as an example of God’s work in the world, but she also stresses the need to be open to people who are different — or, in her own words, “not in our camp.”
In her sermon, she expressed two important beliefs: that the Scottish Presbyterian heritage is to be celebrated as a gift from God, and that openness to fellowship with the entire human family — including what can be learned of God’s work from other heritages — is essential.
Rev. Alkhouri also took advantage of the opportunity Scot’s Sunday offered to exhort her congregation to be more attentive to God’s work during Advent. With gentle words she encouraged people to take moments out of their busy, hectic schedules to look for signs of God’s love and presence in their lives.
The service was followed by a reception with Scottish shortbread and other refreshments. Alkhouri hopes to celebrate Scot’s Sunday again in the years to come.