Last Sunday, I spent the day in Edinburgh, which is about an hour’s train ride from Glasgow. One of the things I did that day was to attend a Church of Scotland event in Princes Street Gardens, called Heart & Soul. I thought some of you might be interested to see it, and to know a bit more about the Church of Scotland.
This celebration (the first one was in 2011, which I posted about here) takes place on the first Sunday of the week of the General Assembly. It happens in the building known as the General Assembly Hall, which is on the Mound in Edinburgh. As you probably know, Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland. It’s where the Scottish Parliament building is. While the Parliament building was being built, the Parliament met in the General Assembly Hall (as well as in other parts of the country). So the General Assembly’s actual location is a central one within Scotland:
Not far from Edinburgh Castle:
I’ve written before about how the Church of Scotland is the national church. The entire country (and Scotland is a very large country, geographically speaking) is divided up into presbyteries. Each presbytery is divided up into parishes. This means that wherever you live, you are within a parish of the Church of Scotland. It also means that wherever you are, there is a church which (in theory at least – I know there are different interpretations!) you can request to carry out a baptism, a marriage, or a funeral.
While the Kirk isn’t the major cultural force that it once was within Scottish society, it still is a very important national institution. People are interested in the decisions made at the General Assembly, which is covered every day by the BBC and now broadcast online. Representatives from churches across the land come to debate various decisions every year. This year two hot topics of debate are the Independence Referendum in September, and the ordination of gay ministers.
I found it interesting that the Queen herself recognises the influence that the Church has within Scotland. She wrote a letter to the General Assembly, appealing for it to “heal divisions”. (BBC report here.)
In welcome contrast to the debates and discussions taking place above the Gardens in the General Assembly Hall, the Heart and Soul celebration in Princes Street Gardens was very informal. In common with the overall work of the General Assembly, there were many different points of view and priorities represented by those attending.
There were various stalls, giving information about the work that the Church is doing in Scotland and the wider world. The Church has a very important social care branch, which runs care homes and various programmes throughout the country. These include initiatives such as centres that help rehabilitate people with addictions, school, workplace and prison chaplains, and much more. There were also a number of stalls representing intiatives that the Church of Scotland is a partner organisation with.
I was thrilled to see (and smell) the lilacs in bloom, and the setting of the stage area really can’t be rivalled:
There were four different stage areas, and so much to see and hear. I met up with friends who had come down from Aberdeen, and we went to see the choir of the East Africa Presbyterian church perform. They even managed to get us all on our feet and singing some African songs!
We stopped for a “cuppie” and as we left, spotted a special car:
Every year, the Queen appoints a representative to come to the General Assembly. This person is called the Lord High Commissioner. This year the Queen appointed her son, Prince Edward, as her representative. I wrote here about the very nonchalant reception Prince Edward had when he came to open the refurbished His Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen. There was a bit more of a buzz at Heart & Soul surrounding his and his wife Sophie’s presence.
He was preceded by a soldier in full regalia (and surrounded by the usual fairly discreet security men):
And he stopped to talk to people as he passed:
Sophie (the Countess of Wessex to give her her proper title) met some of the children. One little girl that I know was just home from a holiday in Florida, where she had met lots of princesses at Disneyworld – I wondered whether she understood that this nice, normal-looking lady was a real member of royalty? Perhaps not!
One church was doing a very funny dance, and my friend Nomie (in purple) joined right along:
They were very entertaining!
At 5:00 people gathered around the bandstand for a worship service. It began by a procession of banners, one from each presbytery in the land. The Church of Scotland also has presbyteries in England (I think there are two Churches of Scotland there) and in Europe.
I had to leave early to catch my train, but as I walked up to the top terrace to make my way out of the Gardens, I was surprised at how many people were standing and singing along with the hymns.
So that is a little bit about the Church of Scotland, and about my visit to Heart & Soul 2014. It was great to see my church friends from Aberdeen there. This time I was home long before they were, but I’m sure they had some good laughs on the bus trip up the road.
I’ll show you a bit more of my day in Edinburgh in my next post! I hope your week is going well.