Kirkin' Events

Once each year, we have held the Kirkin' o' the Tartans. Tartans are carried down the aisle of the Sanctuary to the skirling of the pipers playing. The prayers, hymns, and flowers are chosen with the Scottish heritage of the Presbyterian Church in mind on this day. The tartan is a symbol of this love and togetherness, no matter what our heritage. In our Kirkin' service, we remember ancient times, as well as past and present kith and kin, while asking God's help and blessings in the future. Check out the information below to learn about all upcoming Kirkin' events. 

  • Join us on Sunday, November 7, 2021 at 10am in the sanctuary for a joint worship service to celebrate Kirkin' o' the Tartan. If you have a tartan don't forget to wear it and/or bring a piece to place on the bulletin board for all to see. 

  • In the weeks leading up to Kirkin' we will have a few all church Sunday school classes to get everyone ready for the big day. This Sunday school class will be focused on the History of Kirkin' and led by Brian Johnston. The class will be held in the Contemporary Worship center, it will be live-streamed and added below to watch later. 

  • In the weeks leading up to Kirkin' we will have a few all church Sunday school classes to get everyone ready for the big day. This Sunday school class will be focused on the Finding your Tartan and led by Brian Johnston. The class will be held in the Fellowship Hall. We will help you find your tartan, or create your own in preparation for the worship service. 

Welcome to Kirkin' o' the Tartans!

What does “Kirkin' O' the Tartans” mean? A loose translation is “blessing of the tartans” or “blessing of the families”. A “Kirk” is a Scottish word for church and a “Tartan” is the plaid-patterned fabric, usually wool, that clans or families use to distinguishthemselves from other clans; essentially a means of identity and a link to their heritage.

Where does this event come from; what's its

historical significance? As a modern tradition, the Kirkin' is a North American event, although its origins date back to Scotland and the Disarming Act of 1745, where the Scots were forbidden from wearing their tartans as a result of the Jacobite (Scottish patriots) defeat in 1745 by the English. Thereafter, legend has it that families would hide swatches of their tartan when going to church services and would touch it at a specific time during the service, usually a blessing, as a way to recommit themselves to the Lord and their Scottish heritage.

When did the Kirkin' appear in American history?

Many historians believe the first instance of the Kirkin' in America occurred in the 1940's in the middle of World War II when Dr. Peter Marshall, pastor at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., recreated the Kirkin' event in the United States as a way to encourage Scottish- Americans to serve in the war effort and most importantly to rededicate themselves to the Lord. Rev. Marshall went on to become the first Chaplain of the United States Senate. The Kirkin' event in Washington is held to this day in National Cathedral.

Is the Kirkin' held by just Presbyterian churches?

No. In fact, because the Kirkin' has the universal theme of service and commitment to the Lord, many churches, protestant and Catholic alike, perform the Kirkin' ceremony in over 50 cathedrals and many churches throughout the United States. It's actually become a way for many people, regardless of their heritage, to reconnect with their faith.

Kirk: "Kirk" is Scottish for church and the Tartan, with its distinctive, cross-lined patterns, represents specific Scottish clans, families, regions and reg- iments.

The Holy Bible: During the Middle Ages and through the Reformation, Bibles were rare among the common people. The Bible of the Kirk (the church) was a treasured possession. The value of the sacred scriptures and the danger of theft: led to the establishment of a special lay office within the Kirk known as the Beadle, as this was the person in charge of carrying and protecting the Holy Bible of the congregation.

The Celtic Cross: This familiar cross is very ancient, for the primitive Celtic Christians trace their origins to a very early era. Many were erected in ancient times as wayside and cemetery crosses. The circle, emblem of eternity, suggests the eternal quality of the Redemption.

Bagpipes: The bagpipe is a musical instrument now regarded as the national instrument of Scotland. Each clan had its own bagpiper and its fame was based to some extent on the bagpiper's ability. Crimond, the bagpiper to the clan McLeod, wrote the tune to the 23rd Psalm we use as our closing hymn.

Tartan and Plaid: Perhaps no symbol is more associated with Scotland and Scottish tradition than the colorful traditions associated with Highland dress. The tradition of the tartan is an old one, and there are many references to it in early Scottish literature. The ancient tartan was described as "chequered" or "striped" or "sundrie coloured." When we refer to the sett of a tartan we mean the pattern, and a length of tartan is made up of one sett repeated over and over again until the desired length is reached. For many centuries, tartans formed part of the everyday dress of the Highland people, and it was there that its use continued and developed until it became recognized as a symbol of clan kinship. Tartans are still being registered with the Scottish Tartan Society. A red, white, and blue tartan was developed for the United States Bicentennial in 1976.

John Knox, Scottish Reformer: Knox studied under John Calvin, the father of Presbyterianism, in Geneva, Switzerland, in the 1500s. Upon returning to Scotland, he wrote the first book of Church Order and established the first Presbyterian churches. The church spread to Ireland and it was immigrants from Scotland and Ireland who brought the Presbyterian Church to America.

Our Scottish Heritage

The Scottish heritage of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can be traced and celebrated this morning by noting the achievements of just three men: John Knox, Andrew Melville, and Francis Mackemie.

John Knox (c. 1512-1572) was the outstanding leader of the Scottish reformation. As a schoolmaster and clergy, he was raised in a Scotland that was religiously immersed in Roman Catholicism. The Scots were ready for a reformation of the Kirk that would result in a purer and simpler faith. After experiencing and embracing the religious and political views of John Calvin in Geneva, Knox returned to Scotland in 1559. The Scottish Parliament commissioned him and five others to write the Scots confession. In 1560 this confession was overwhelmingly adopted, and became the original charter of the Reformed Kirk of Scotland. By this Act, the authority of the Bishop of Rome was rejected. In addition, the Book of Order (known as Knox’s Liturgy) and the First Book of Discipline were adopted. Knox had led the Scottish Church into a reformation following the Calvinist tradition.

Andrew Melville (1545-1622) was outraged when he realized that the Kirk was being ruled by civilian (Tulchan) bishops who placed church revenues in the hands of the state. He led the successful fight to purge the Kirk of such bishops, and succeeded in establishing the rule of the Kirk through presbyteries. In 1575, the General Assembly of the Kirk to which Melville was a Commissioner met in Edinburgh. The Assembly appointed a committee to prepare a new constitution, subsequently embodied in the Second Book of Discipline adopted in 1581. Melville was the leading spirit in its preparation. As a result, the Presbyterian form of government was born.

Francis Mackemie (1658-1708) was trained for the gospel ministry at the University of Glasgow, and was licensed as a Minister of the Word (clergy) of the Reformed Kirk of Scotland in 1681. In 1683, he came to the United States and founded at least five churches of which we know. Mackemie and six other clergy formed the first Presbyterian in Colonial America in 1706 at Philadelphia. Thus the Presbyterian Church in the new world became a reality in a large degree through the efforts of this great Scotsman.

In addition to the accomplishments of these three men, it is well to mention George Wishart (1513-1546), who is considered to be the first Presbyterian martyr.

In 1546, Wishart, a Scottish preacher and teacher, was convicted of heresy by James Bothwell (who later became husband of Mary Queen of Scots). Since he would not recant, he was put to death at St. Andrew’s Castle on March 1st of that year.  The last words of this great Presbyterian were:

“I beseech Thee, Father of Heaven, forgive them that have from ignorance or an evil mind, forged lies about me. I forgive them with all my heart. I pray Thee, O Christ, to forgive them that have ignorantly condemned me. O Savior of the world, have mercy upon me. Father of Heaven, I commend my spirit into thy holy hands.”

Tartan Path to the Present

In 1745, Charles Edward Stewart, grandson of James VII of Scotland, II of England, made a predictably hopeless effort, not to separate Scotland from England, but to place his father, yet another James, on the throne of the united Kingdom in London.

Neither Presbyterian Scotland nor Episcopalian England would accept James nor Charles and risk the abuses of which James VII had been guilty.

Supported by a very small percentage of the Highlanders, themselves a minority of the population of Scotland, on Cullonden Moor in April 1746, Charles Edward’s small band of brave, tired, hungry, poorly armed and ineptly led Highlanders were mowed down by artillery of the British Army comprised of English and Scots troops. It was a rebellion of Highlanders suppressed by the British Government and in no sense a war or battle between England and Scotland.

One of the results of the Rising of 1745 was the banning of highland dress and music. This law was repealed in 1782.

The Kirkin’ O’ the Tartans, and American innovation, is a celebration of the peaceful assembly of many erstwhile enemies in the days of clan rivalry and warfare. The energies of Scots around the world, turned from combat to community, have made for significant progress. This service we honor today.


Contributed by the Honorable William J. Gillie Judge Franklin County
Court of Common Pleas