- December 2, 2014
Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans takes “put on your Sunday best” to another level and land. It’s the one and only Sunday of the year that the Christ Church congregation gets to listen to bagpipes and see Pastor Norman Pitchard’s knees peek out from behind the pulpit and his kilt.
The service is a favorite among Longboat Key residents, not just members. The church was a full house on Feb. 26 with 440 people filling nearly every seat, including extra foldout chairs in the back.
Pritchard moved to the U.S. in 1996, but he’s originally from Glasgow, Scotland. He was dressed in the Macdonald tartan from his mother’s side of the family.
While the Kirkin’ ceremony is widely recognized by Americans as a Scottish tradition, Pritchard and the Scottish Tartans Museum will tell you it’s actually a Scottish-American tradition.
The real story only dates back to the Second World War, when Rev. Peter Marshall gave a sermon titled, “Kirkin o’ the Tartan.” He was the pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. and also served as chaplain to the U.S. Senate.
Marshall was holding prayer services and raising money for British war relief. He died a few years later at only 46 years old, but a Kirkin’ service is still held each year in his honor at the National Cathedral in D.C. Now, the funds raised go to scholarships.
“But it does have antecedents,” Pritchard said. “It used to be the case, in both Scotland and England, that the Sunday after local council elections, the new council would follow the mayor and all the robes of office, and they’d parade to church. The pastor would pray for them to be given wisdom and strength and all the things they needed for their new term in office.”
Another tie into history Pritchard points to is the gathering of the clans when troops would meet in a designated area where each clan chief would announce himself and his clan. Church members carried 23 tartan banners down the aisle to start the service.
The drummers were already in place on stage, then the bagpipe players blared down the aisle in perfect time and tune. The Lion Rampant Pipe Band is a traditional pipe and drum band based out of St. Margaret of Scotland Episcopal Church in Sarasota.
Regardless of its origin, Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans celebrates Scottish history and religious freedom. It’s also fun and joyous, so arrive early next year or it may be standing-room only.