Posted by: christinelaennec | May 22, 2014

A Church of Scotland shindig in Edinburgh

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:

Church of Scotland Assembly Hall, on the Mound in Edinburgh.

Church of Scotland Assembly Hall, on the Mound in Edinburgh.

Not far from Edinburgh Castle:

Looking over to the castle.

Looking over to the 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.

Walking down into Princes Street Gardens

Walking down into Princes Street Gardens

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.)

Heart & Soul 2014, in Princes Street Gardens, below Edinburgh Castle.

Heart & Soul 2014, in Princes Street Gardens, below Edinburgh Castle.

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.

People coming into the East entrance of the event.

People coming into the East entrance of the event.

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.

Kilts on hand!

Kilts on hand!

I was thrilled to see (and smell) the lilacs in bloom, and the setting of the stage area really can’t be rivalled:

The bandstand area of Heart & Soul 2014, below Edinburgh Castle.

The bandstand area of Heart & Soul 2014, below Edinburgh Castle.

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!

Singers from East Africa Presbyterian church performing.

Singers from East Africa Presbyterian church performing at St. Cuthbert’s church

We stopped for a “cuppie” and as we left, spotted a special car:

Ultra fancy car and security Land Rover parked by St. Cuthbert's.

Ultra fancy car and security Land Rover parked by St. Cuthbert’s.

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):

A man in full regalia (not sure which though).

A man in full regalia (not sure which though).

And he stopped to talk to people as he passed:

Prince Edward, this year's Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly.

Prince Edward, this year’s Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly.

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:

Fun and games!  A sing and dance-a-long.

Fun and games! A sing and dance-a-long.

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.

Procession of flags from each of the presbyteries in the country at the closing worship.

Procession of flags from each of the presbyteries in the country at the closing worship.

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.

Closing worship (I had to leave a bit early!)

Closing worship (I had to leave a bit early!)

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.



  1. It might amuse you to know that the wifi network I’m currently using has blocked your blog as though it has some sort of dangerous content! I’ve had to read this on my phone instead, but I so enjoyed hearing about Heart & Soul from your point of view. I’ve never made it along myself yet, but you’ve made it sound a very positive experience 🙂

    (I’m also amused that you seem – though I can’t be completely sure from the quality on my phone – to have captured my minister/line-manager loitering in purple behind the Prince!)


    • I have this trouble too, Laura. It’s a discrepancy between the apparent site name ( and the “real” name, which makes it look like we’re being sent somewhere we really didn’t want to go. If only ‘they’ knew. “Yes, I do want to go there”, I shout at my computer.

  2. That’s a great shot of the bandstand beneath the castle, Edinburgh’s looking lovely in your photos.

  3. Nice that you could come over for the event. You describe it all beautifully. I know the minister standing beside Prince Edward in photo 11. It’s a small world!

  4. I always learn a little something from your posts, Christine. This one is no exception. My week is going well, so far. I hope your is, too.

  5. The castle gives a wonderful backdrop to this event. The vast amount of greenery around it and the steepness of the rocks give it a real strength and power. I think of people wanting to attack it and finding that task to be rather daunting.
    I have two questions which you may or may not be able to answer 🙂
    1. Are the men wearing Royal Stewart tartan?…and is there any ‘clan’ connection with churches or were they just expressing their Scottishness in a general sort of way?
    2. Any idea why the black hats in the dance (I presume Nomie borrowed one of theirs)?

  6. Thanks for another thought provoking post, Christine! [The dance looked like it was fun and I would have loved to hear all the people sing!] I appreciate your efforts. The natural setting for Heart & Soul 2014 is inspiring and some of the buildings so impressive. The structure of the organization of the church of Scotland is interesting and the Queen’s entreaty to the church so challenging.

    While I am getting better from the flu I am so saddened to learn today that a couple in the African [Nigerian] branch of our church family lost their oldest daughter in a terrorist attack yesterday just weeks before she was to graduate from med school…the attack brought heartbreaking loss for so many who lost loved ones…much more Love needed in the world.

  7. Glad you had a good day through here and that it didn’t rain on the event! We know the social care branch of the C of S well and appreciate the work it does in Scottish society – my husband worked for it for several years. He has also been a ‘commissioner’ at the General Assembly – a representative of his presbytery.

    As a member of the Stewart clan, in answer to oldblack I would say that it does look like Royal Stewart tartan from this distance.

    Have you been to the C of S church in Paris? I used to go when I was living in Paris. At that time it was just like a little bit of Scotland transplanted to France, with a few touches of French flair thrown in ie proper French coffee as opposed to the ‘boiled-milk-and-instant-coffee’ that used to be standard C of S fare.

  8. What a special outing!!!!! What a good idea to have booths explaining different aspects of the church’s ministry and outlets. Also very fun to see Prince Edward and Sophie!!!!! And especially meaningful to have worship with so many people and to hear even the gathered crowd singing along. Would have loved to have heard the East Africa choir!!!!

  9. Thanks everyone for the very intresting comments and discussion. It’s true that you just never know what a blog post will spark off!

    I was sorry to hear about the trouble caused by my own domain name redirecting to the WordPress site. I sometimes get security alerts too, in previewing my own post for example. Thanks to everyone who perseveres and clicks through. Maybe at some point I’ll drop the domain name and just revert to the WordPress default.

    Laura and Phnip – yes it really is a small world! Funny that you know the folks in the photos who were strangers to me. Laura, thinking of you.

    Agent Rod – glad to hear you got something from it!

    oldblack – on the question of the tartan, I bow to Linda’s expertise. I imagine the men were in their kilts and Prince Charlie jackets because they were there performing, perhaps in a musical group or pipe band. As far as I know, clan tartans are linked to family groups rather than churches, but obviously there are some churches that in the past were supported by particular families/clans, so there may be connections for all I know.

    The black hats were just for fun, in the style of Men in Black I suppose. Yes, they had lots of extra hats and were roping people in to join. I stood WELL back and was not conscripted! Nomie is a lively lady and has far more energy (and sense of fun, no doubt) than I do.

    Gracie – I’m glad you are feeling better but what tragic news. The world is definitely in need of much more love and connection. It’s unthinkable, the damage a few people can now perpetuate on others. What agonies for the parents and the family of all the victims of such atrocities. I hope they can feel that God is still holding them in their sufferings.

    Linda/occasionalscotland – I have always been very impressed by the work the Church of Scotland does “outside” of the church, as it were, in the society at large. People I’ve known who have been commissioners have found it very interesting. My former minister from Aberdeen is the current Acting Clerk to the Assembly, and so will have had more than his fill of proceedings and debate by the end of the week, I imagine! He has a talent for such things.

    No, I don’t think I’ve ever been to the CofS in Paris. When I was living there as a young woman I went for a while to the Church of England there, St. Michael’s. I made some friends there that are still good friends. As you describe, it was like a slice of England in another land, but with a French twist.

    Heather – yes, it was a lovely occasion. And I thought my American readers in particular might be (as I was) interested in the presence of the Royals. Not what I would have expected in a Church of Scotland context, but what do I know?!

  10. Good to see you had a good visit to Edinburgh. It looks like good fun although I’m sure there were serious parts to the day too. x

  11. Oh, I was in Edinburgh on Sunday at my knitting group, I could have come to say hello to you! Next time!

    • We should try to get together sometime in Edinburgh, Katherine. I hadn’t been entirely sure that I would be able to go on that trip, but I very much hope that in the future things will be a bit less uncertain.

  12. Thank you for sharing this very interesting piece of Scotland, Christine. I love the photo of the African choir – what a special treat for you! xo

  13. I love Scotland, was there in ’07 and going back next year.
    Wonderful post

  14. what fun! I think I would have enjoyed that day most splendidly. I particularly like the dancing part and all the music.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: