I am in Dundee, which I am using as a "base" of sorts to see places around Dundee, St. Andrews, and places in between (and yes, there are some places in between!). Above you will see the remains of the castle of St. Andrews. Originally, it was the home of the medieval archbishops of St. Andrews, which was regarded for many years as the "holiest" site in Scotland, due to its association with the bones of St. Andrew (yes, the brother of Peter, whose bones were supposedly brought here, as well as probably a half dozen other sites in Europe!).
St. Andrews was the place where the two first Protestant martyrs were executed in Scotland. The execution of the beloved George Wishart, however, brought about a revolution of sorts. Wishart was captured, tried, and killed at the behest of Archbishop Beaton (who by the time of his death had fathered 20 illegitimate children!). The place where George Wishart was burned at the stake is marked on the road just in front of the castle ruins (see above). The Protestant lords of Scotland responded by storming his castle in St. Andrews (he then was busy trying to hide his gold!) and finding the archbishop, killed him. They then took over the castle. There was a long standoff between the Protestant and Roman Catholic lords, with Protestants coming to the castle then (including the young man John Knox). Knox was appointed minister to the castle, and preached regularly during its siege. Things remained a stalemate of sorts, until the French fleet arrived and bombarded the castle. The Protestant lords surrendered. Knox was taken prisoner by the French, and spent the better part of two years as a galley slave on a French ship (this might explain the hard-nosed character of Knox throughout the rest of his life). Knox would later be released through negotiations on his behalf by the English government of King Edward VI.
While in St. Andrews, I paid tribute at the grave of Rev. Samuel Rutherford, one of the leading Scottish preachers of the 17th century, who was one of the four Scottish representatives to the Westminster Assembly (where the Confessions of Faith and Catechisms were written) in the 1640s. His grave is in the graveyard at the ruins of the old cathedral in St. Andrews. Also, while in St. Andrews, I happened to visit the local parish church of the Church of Scotland, Holy Trinity, which goes back to before the Reformation. While there, it just so happened that a class of students from St. Andrews University were coming to see the first edition (1611) of the King James Bible that the parish church owns! So, I and my friend, Andrew Nixon, who drove me to St. Andrews, were also invited to see it as well! I have a full facsimile of it in my study, but to see an original in such good shape was marvelous!
In addition to such "fun" I have also met with several pastors and church workers in Dundee and Leuchars. I will report more about this later, as well as my trip to Leuchars earlier in the week.
Today I said goodbye to Edinburgh, and took the train to Dundee. I had a nice ride through Fife, and then crossed the Tay into Dundee (the Tay is the river you see in the picture on the right above). After checking in at my Airbnb, I then went on to St. Peters Free Church where I met up with the Rev. David Robertson, who showed me around and then took me to lunch (middle picture above). We had a great conversation about the challenge facing the churches in Scotland, and I heard his reflections on his trips to the USA, particularly his trips to the South. He also gave me names of other folks here in Dundee to connect with.
David also invited to attend an outreach dinner at the Hillbank Evangelical Church, about half a mile from where I am staying. The men of the church organized a dinner ("a curry" as they called it, since we had Indian food--which was delicious, with Scotch pies for the faint of heart who do not eat curry), where they invited their non-church going friends, as a way of trying to get them there. David Robertson spoke, and did a superb job of presenting the Gospel in a clear, winsome, honest way. The church plans to build on this night with a six-week introduction to the faith that will start shortly after Easter. I sat with a young man, named Ewan, a very committed Christian who has a real ministry of encouragement. Folks were interested in who I was, with one person (half-joking) that I must be the next minister at St. Peters, since David Robertson is to leave this summer for a two year work in Australia! I assured him that I was not! The dinner was well attended, and you can see a nice photo from our evening at Hillbank Evangelical Church.
So why did I want to meet with David Robertson? Go to his blog and read his stuff, and listen to his weekly podcast. You can find all of this at theweeflea.com. David is a very bright pastor/theologian, who has some profoundly important observations to make about the church and culture,
At David's suggestion I spoke today with an American here in Dundee who is serving in a Church of Scotland congregation, whom I plan to meet on Friday and learn about his work and ministry. In fact, this gentleman lived for a while in Andrews, North Carolina, and was refreshed to hear a familiar accent on the phone.
Tomorrow I will go down to Leuchars by bus, a town halfway between Dundee and St. Andrews (which I plan to visit on Thursday). So, tomorrow I should have a report about my historical excursion to Leucars. But it involves a man whose grave I visited at Greyfriars in Edinburgh.
Grace and peace! Walter
It is hard to believe that today, Monday, March 11, is my last full day in Edinburgh. Tomorrow morning I will go to the local train station and catch the train for Dundee, and wave goodbye to "Auld Reekie" (an old name for Edinburgh, hearkening back to the days when the city was far dirtier than it is today).
I want to say something about the place I stayed, the Emmaus House. Emmaus House is a guesthouse operated by folks largely associated with the Scottish Episcopal Church. Thus, it is a Christian operated home, but open to all comers. I was drawn to it when I first began making plans for my sabbatical. The rates are lower than what is usual here in Edinburgh, and it includes breakfast. The rooms have everything one needs (including wi-fi), but without the amenities of a TV in each room (there is one in the lobby, though it is not used much). The people who work here are all pleasant and courteous, with each one of them learning my name immediately. I have the one guestroom that does not have a private bathroom, but I am next door to a bathroom not otherwise used, so that was not a problem for me at all (actually, I chose that option, because it came a little big cheaper).
In the second photo above you see that Emmaus house is along a row of Georgian era homes. I was on the third floor, as Americans number floors, but on the second floor as the British name them (what we would call the first floor is the "ground floor" in the UK). The white bay window on the top of the building is mine. The picture on the right above is the view from out of my window. The church tower you see is the steeple of Barclay Viewforth Church of Scotland, the local parish, where I joined them for evening worship last night. It is an evangelical parish within the Church of Scotland. I found their evening service very warm and the people were very friendly (the evening service is not in the main sanctuary, but in a smaller room, so the 25 or so gathered there did not seem so small--the morning services are much better attended).
If you are coming to Edinburgh and you want accommodations that provide you with what you need, are within a short walking distance (no more than a mile) from all the major attractions, and are affordable (as Edinburgh can be very expensive), then I would recommend the folks at Emmaus House.
For lunch on my last day here in Edinburgh, I had lunch with the Rev. Iver Martin, the principal of the Edinburgh Theological Seminary (we would call him the president of the seminary in the USA). Iver is a minister in the Free Church of Scotland. We had a very good conversation today relating to the work of the Free Church in reaching out to evangelize Scotland, worship, and the general situation of the Free Church. Iver hopes to attend the General Assembly of the EPC this summer.
Today was a free day altogether, and so I did not know for sure what I would do when I got up this morning. So, I decided to go to North Berwick, to the east of Edinburgh on the eastern coast of Scotland. North Berwick is about an half hour train ride from Edinburgh, and a place of great significance. Just off the coast of North Berwick is "The Bass Rock", a rocky volcanic island that today is a bird sanctuary for gannets and puffins, and is a protected site. But in the 17th century, it was the "Alacatraz of Scotland, a prison. It was used to imprison many Covenanters who had earned the ire of the king for refusing to acknowledge him as the king and head of the Church. That was for Christ alone. One of the great Covenanter preachers who spent the last few years of his life on the Bass Rock was the Rev. John Blackadder. Though already an older man by the time (he was nearing 60), he was sent to island, where his health failed him and he died before a release order given for him could take effect. He was then buried in the churchyard of the local parish church in North Berwick (his is the grave on the far left above in this picturesque place (the Bass Rock is on the right above).
Unfortunately, the local museum was closed for renovations, so I was not able to enjoy it. However, I did go into two different local churches of the Church of Scotland in the town, and found that both of them have thriving ministries, committed to evangelizing their community. In fact, the church secretary at one of them was in, and gave me a full tour of their renovated building. She was very friendly and inviting. It was refreshing to see that there are not one but two thriving Presbyterian congregations in that town!
There were no boats running to the Bass Rock today (and won't be until April sometime). However, I took my lunch is a café where I had a view of it, and it gave me time to contemplate the willingness of men and women like Blackadder who were willing to suffer such deprivation and death for the honor of Christ as the only Head and King of the Church.
I made it back to Edinburgh in time to go to the local cinema around the corner to see the Edinburgh premier of a documentary about that ancient libation of Scotland, whisky. It was a very well done film called, "Scotch: The Golden Dram." It told the story about the making of whisky, through the entire process, beginning with the growing of the grain. The film centered around a master of whisky-making here in Scotland, Jim McEwan, who served for many years at one of the great distilleries on the island of Islay, Bowmore, before moving on to helping in the resurrection of a derelict distillery that he brought back into operation. It was a film with real "heart". What's more, since this was the Edinburgh premier, the Director himself came in and answered questions from the audience! There were only five of us in the theater (they scheduled it for 3.30 in the afternoon on a Friday....). He turned out to be an American, as well. It was a real treat, and for serious single malt whisky enthusiasts (and if you don't know what "single malt" is then, you are likely not a whisky enthusiast)!
Yesterday was an exciting day, as I had breakfast with Rev. David Meredith, the Mission Director of the Free Church of Scotland. I learned from him that the Evangelical Presbyterian Church is indeed known by the Free Church of Scotland, because two of our congregations are contributing support to new church development work here in Edinburgh, the church where the Principal of their seminary (Edinburgh Theological Seminary) attends. At the end of breakfast, David Meredith invited me to make an appearance at the meeting of the Free Church's Ecumenical Relations Committee, to introduce myself, talk a little about the EPC, and take greetings back to the EPC from the Free Church. They were very gracious, and it is an honor for me to be the purveyor of such goodwill. For all the struggles going on in Scotland, the Free Church is committed to getting the Gospel to the people.
Late this morning I trekked back to Greyfriars Church to get a few more pictures as well as attend a prayer service in the early afternoon. Greyfriars is one of the great, historic churches in Edinburgh, where many "Greats" of Scottish history are buried in the graveyard surrounding the church. I have already posted pictures of Greyfriars, so won't post any tonight. The prayer service was small--there were only five of us in all, including the associate pastor of the church. Afterward, however, I went back up to Edinburgh Theological Seminary, where I attended a lecture given by a retired professor of the Gaelic language, Prof. Douglas Meek, who lectured about the emergence of evangelicals in the Highlands of Scotland in the 18th century.
After the lecture, when I met Dr. Meek, he asked me where I lived in the USA, and when I told him North Carolina, he said, "Ah, the best place to live in the USA!" He is hoping to make a visit to North Carolina to continue researching a Gaelic speaking 18th century Presbyterian preacher, who preached to the Gaelic speaking community around Fayetteville before returning to Scotland. He knew all about the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge, and how the wife of Flora McDonald was taken prisoner there, before the McDonalds eventually returned to Scotland.
Afterwards I took in an early supper at a place called Deacon Brodie Tavern, around the corner from the seminary. Deacon Brodie was a well-thought-of Deacon of a Guild (a professional organization) of cabinet-makers in the city. He was respectable. He also lived a secret life. He would install cabinets in people's homes, get a good look at their belongings, and then break in and burglarize their homes! He was caught and hanged. Robert Louis Stevenson was so intrigued with the story of someone living such a double life, that it inspired his book "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." Well, I had a traditional Scottish dinner of "haggis, nips, and tatties," or haggis, turnips, and mashed potato. It was very tasty.
Today was another day with meetings. After a brief time at the Scottish Museum of History, I met with Rev. James Ross of Baccleuch Free Church of Scotland, where I worshiped on a Sunday evening my first Sunday in Edinburgh. James and I discussed mission and ministry in Scotland, in Edinburgh, and what God is doing at Baccleuch Free Church. After good conversation and a cup of coffee, I went to the old city and met up with Derek Lamont, senior pastor of St. Columba's Free Church of Scotland (where I worshiped Sunday) and his associate pastor, Thomas Davis. In the course of that conversation, I learned that one of the Free Church church plants is receiving financial support from First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, a large EPC congregation. So, the EPC is on the map with folks in the Free Church. Again, we had wonderful conversation, the fruits of which I will be sharing after my return. These three pastors, like every other pastor I have met with here, were kind and hospitable.
I have met now with pastors representing three different strands of Presbyterianism in Scotland: the Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland, and the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, as well as members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Now before you begin to criticize the Scottish Presbyterians, I did spend some time yesterday laying out for a Scottish Presbyterian minister the various strands of American Presbyterianism (the PCUSA, the PCA, the EPC, the OPC, well, you get it!).
Some things I have learned in Edinburgh:
Edinburgh is a beautiful city. Yet, no more than 3% of the population attends worship on Sunday.
You can reach a point that you have heard too many bagpipes. I love the pipes, and all the people playing them I have heard on the Royal Mile are excellent. But you can reach a point. In fact, Sunday at St. Columba's, I could hear the pipes during the minister's sermon, outside on the street (St. Columba's is right on the Royal Mile). This evening I took a few minutes and listened to the fellow pictured above playing the cello. He played one of the Bach suites for solo cello (one of my favorites), and followed it up with one of the themes from Harry Potter. What a delight. I dropped a pound into his cello case; I have not yet done that for a bagpiper!
I ended the dinner with fish and chips and haggis, more than I anticipated (or really needed), but all delicious. If you don't know what haggis is, please sample it before you ever learn... You might not sample it otherwise.
Grace and Peace!
This morning I walked down to the old city and attended the 11 o'clock service at St. Columba's Free Church of Scotland. The Free Church of Scotland (or just "the Free Church") is a small denomination that is left from a division that occurred in the Church of Scotland back in 1843. Most of the old Free Church went back into the main Church of Scotland in 1929, but a minority stayed out, and St. Columba's is one of those congregations. In many ways, their unwillingness to go back into the Church of Scotland in 1929 was a blessing, as the Church of Scotland, while the main "national church", and the largest in the Presbyterian family in Scotland, is a liberal denomination today (though with a minority of faithful evangelical congregations remaining in it).
The Free Church, on the other hand, is not found everywhere in Scotland, and for many years was concentrated up in the Highlands (in the north) and in the Hebrides (the islands off of the western coast). It has remained a conservative denomination, though in recent years they have opened up on a few things that has helped to put them in a place for mission in Scotland. Up until just a few years ago, only metrical Psalms were sung in worship, with no musical accompaniment. However, now they are allowed to use hymns and even musical accompaniment. Not all churches do, but St. Columba's does. But they still also will sing metrical Psalms without musical accompaniment.
St. Columba's sings hymns with an ensemble of musicians playing (electronic piano, guitar, accordion, and even a penny whistle played this morning). This was done well, I must say. For one thing, even though they have an ensemble accompanying the congregation to help support singing, the musicians were not upfront and center before the congregation (as is the case in virtually all American churches with "Praise Bands"). They are off to the side (you can see where they sit, to the left of the pulpit, by the wall in the picture on the right above). Thus, they do not look like or come across as "performers." One of my beefs with "Praise Bands" is that when people see a group of players up in front of them on a stage, they see them as performers, entertainers, and often people do not sing so much as listen to them sing. The people of St. Columba's sing, and they sing well. The musicians do not try to make themselves the center of attention, but see themselves as there to encourage congregational singing.
I attended both the morning and evening (5:30 pm) services at St. Columba's, which was a Communion service. Given the international nature of Edinburgh, and all the students here, it was a joy to share in Communion with so many people from so many other places (again, I was not the only American). This is one of the blessings (and one of the challenges) of St. Columba's. After both services, tea, coffee, and refreshments were available, and people stayed (virtually all of them, it seemed) and talked, shared fellowship, and took their time before leaving. That is also something that we need to note at OIEPC. Perhaps we ought to take time after our morning worship and share with one another and get to know each other. Of course, some do (back in the Fellowship Hall), but maybe we could think up other ways to encourage people to interact more after our worship.
After the morning service, I was invited to join a retired couple, Alistair and Sue Simison (pictured below) for lunch in their home. They retired (back) to Edinburgh several years ago. Alistair is a retired orthopedic surgeon, who spent his career working in England. Sue is from England originally, but moved to Edinburgh as a young lady. Alistair is an Elder at St. Columba's. We had lunch at their home. In fact, we had lamb with vegetables. Lamb is my favorite, and so we chalked up to God's Providence that they were having lamb, and then had an unexpected American guest who loves lamb (which we don't get enough in America...). We spent the afternoon in conversations about the joys and challenges facing the church today, and then came back for the evening service. God has blessed me with a number of unexpected blessings like this during my sabbatical time. Alistair and Sue were wonderful examples of true, Christian hospitality.
After evening worship and interacting with others there, I was going to walk back to my BandB, but as it was raining, the Simisons dropped me off (again, my place is right on their way, so another blessing).
By the way, St. Columba was a sixth century missionary monk from Ireland who was one of the first to bring the Gospel to the wild tribes of Scotland, crossing over the Irish Sea. I pray that St. Columba Free Church will continue to live out this same calling in twenty-first century Scotland, which is once again in need of the Good News of the Gospel. Grace and Peace.
Today I took a local bus from Edinburgh and went east of the city to the village of Pencaitland. Pencaitland is a small village, about 10 or 12 miles outside of Edinburgh, in the county of East Lothian. My trip to this village was for a variety of reasons. First, Pencaitland Parish Church (in the Church of Scotland) was served by a minister in the 1600s whose writings were important in my doctoral dissertation on Presbyterian Communion practices. His name was David Calderwood, and Calderwood wrote extensively, including a book that deal with the issue of the Lord's Supper. He served this church as minister from 1641 into the 1650s.
On Monday, February 25, I spent the day on a tour of historic sites in two of Scotland's counties, Lanarkshire and Ayreshire (the region between Edinburgh and Glasgow, with a trip to Glasgow Cathedral) visiting Covenanter sites. I did this through Scottish Reformation Tours, a service (and a ministry) of two people, Jimmy and Helen Fisher (www.reformationtours.org ). The Fishers are committed Christians, and know the history of the Covenanters like no others, as well have a keen knowledge of Covenanter sites. Covenanters were Presbyterians in Scotland who during the time of King Charles II refused to acknowledge the king of the nation as the head of the Church of Scotland. For this, large numbers of Scottish ministers were ejected from their churches and their livings (over 400). Ministers serving in the parish churches had taken an oath that the king was the head of the Church, but these ministers and thousands of Presbyterians would not. Thus, they did not attend their local parish churches anymore, but gathered in "illegal" gatherings with these ministers wherever they could (often in the open country, not a "comfortable" place given the cold and rainy Scottish weather.
The King did not take this lightly. Such gatherings were deemed illegal and even an act of "treason." From 1679 until 1688, King Charles, and then his brother King James (the grandson of the James of the King James Bible, who also disliked Presbyterians, by the way!) ordered that Presbyterians found going to these illegal meetings could be summarily executed, even when evidence was lacking, purely on suspicion of being Covenanters. Thousands were. In our visit we went to graves of these Covenanter martyrs, as well as the sites where Covenanters finally took up arms to defend themselves against the government troops. This all came to an end in 1688, when Britain finally had enough of the Stuart kings, and expelled them once and for all.
The Covenanter story is one that too few Presbyterians know. But it was very important for Scotland and even for America. The children and grandchildren of the Covenanters immigrated to America in the late 1600s and early 1700s. These Presbyterians carried with them their distrust of the Crown. You know the rest of the story!
On Tuesday, my focus shifted from Scotland's past to the present. I was invited to visit the Edinburgh Theological Seminary, have lunch with some of the faculty, and spend my afternoon with them. One of the professors, Alistair Wilson, graciously invited me to attend the graduate students mission seminar he leads. There I met young people training for ministry and mission, both in Scotland and other parts of the world.
I also had a meeting with Dr. Bob Akroyd. Bob is an American who lives permanently in Scotland now. He has an interesting story. Nineteen years ago, he came to Scotland to earn a Ph.D. in Scottish political history, and while here he became a Christian. He studied theology, was ordained a minister in the Free Church of Scotland (a more traditional Presbyterian denomination here), pastored in the church, and now teaches at the seminary. Bob gave me a perspective on the challenges faced in Scotland today, a nation that has largely forgotten its Christian past, and has the lowest church attendance of any English-speaking country in the world (less than 5 percent of the population). Scotland is in an advanced state of secularization.
What does this mean? For starters, the churches in Scotland have few if any "nominal" Christians left. Most who come to worship today are committed believers. Thus, almost no non-Christians attend church at all, which means that Sunday morning is not the place where one encounters non-believers (or even nominal believers). Thus, they are looking for ways of encounter for unbelievers with the Gospel in other settings. The bulk of new church members, then, in a city like Edinburgh are among students (especially foreign students studying here, of which there are many), and children in believing families who are being raised in the church. The blue-collar, working class segment of the population are hardly touched by the church or come to it.
In addition to this, the largest denomination in Scotland, the Church of Scotland (the mainline Presbyterian church here) is led by a very liberal majority (though there is still a minority of evangelical/Reformed people in it, among both minister and members. Later this week I will visit with one, in fact). In this we see the same trends that we see in the USA.
But new churches are being started. In fact, the only churches in Scotland that are growing are from the evangelical end of things. The reason is this, a secularized culture has no real need for a secularized church. And while the growth is slow and with struggle, so it often is with the Kingdom of God.
In the photo below, the building between the two lamp posts is the Edinburgh Theological Seminary.
Today, I had lunch with Matthew Vogan of the organization "Reformation Scotland," that works with ministers and churches in various ways to encourage ongoing Reformation in the life and work of the church, both in educating folks about the past, but also in dealing with the challenges of the present. You can read more about that organization at www. reformationscotland.org ).
My day ended with dinner with Allan McColloch, an elder in an evangelical congregation of the Church of Scotland, who is involved in a number of different Christian organizations in Edinburgh, as well as his local church. Allan is a kindly, Christian man with a deep, biblical faith, and a wonderful grasp of the situation of the church and culture in Scotland. So, I am making some new friends.
Oh, and today I visited and toured Ediburgh Casle, also pictured below!
Tomorrow, I will take the train to a town north of Glasgow, Kilsyth, which is the home of perhaps the largest bookshop in the world for used books on Reformed theology, the Reformation, and the history of Presbyterianism! Now doesn't that sound like fun! Blessings!