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The Scottish Episcopal Church

July 19, 2011

One of the neat things about traveling abroad is getting to see how things are done in other parts of the Anglican Communion.  While Elise and I were in Scotland, we were on the Isle of Skye during Sunday. Now, while we were staying on the other side of the Isle in a “wee village” called Ullinish, we decided to travel to Portree, on the opposite side of the Isle (about a 35 minute drive) so we could attend church at the Isle’s only Scottish Episcopal Church.

Some of you might know, the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Scottish Episcopal Church have a special connection:  It was Bishops from the Scottish Episcopal Church who consented to ordain the first American Episcopal Bishops, because the English had just lost what they refer to as “the American War for Independence” and were being surly, and the Scottish don’t like the pass up an opportunity to stick it to the English.

That being said, Episcopal churches in Scotland aren’t particularly prevalent (Episcopal = Church of England, see above comment).  The National Church of Scotland is Presbyterian (John Knox, a Scot, was the student of John Calvin – founder of Presbyterianism).

So, it was, on a rainy Sunday morning, that we arrived in Portree, Skye, Scotland at St. Columba’s Scottish Episcopal Church.  St. Columba (Colum Cille in Scottish Gaelic) was an evangelistic missionary to Scotland in the 6th century, and along with a great story about him converting the Pictish nobleman, Emchath, at Glen Urquhart (a castle we visited), there is a fascinating legend involving him and ‘Nessie,’ the Loch Ness monster.

The people of St. Columba’s were very welcoming indeed, and bade me return to St. George’s with their greetings in the name of Jesus Christ.  The Sunday we were there was “Seamen’s Sunday,” and we heard from a volunteer with the Scottish version of the Seamen’s Institute.  Later that afternoon the congregation and the priest would reconvene at the harbor for a special service for the mariners.  It’s neat to see work that we do here in Philadelphia also being done across the ocean.  Their work mirrors ours, and ours theirs, as we serve the same population of merchant marines.

The liturgy of the Scottish Episcopal Church was very similar to ours, as one might expect.  They worshiped out of a very small booklet called, “The Scottish Liturgy 1982,” that is likely reminiscent of the old “green book,” or “zebra book” versions of experimental prayer books used in the States in between the 1928 and the 1979 prayer book revisions.  One unique thing that some of you may find interesting is that the Peace happens immediately following the opening greeting and welcome!  Throughout history, the Peace has moved around in the liturgy, and in this Scottish liturgy they locate it right at the beginning.  It was a very neat, warm, and welcoming way to begin a service as they enthusiastically “peaced” each other.

Following that, they did the Collect for Purity the same way we do it here, with all saying it together, then the Summary of the Law, and then the Confession and Absolution.  The Confession has also moved around over the centuries, but we are at least familiar with it being at the beginning of the service, as that is how we do it during Lent.

The rest of the service followed almost exactly as we are used to it, with many of the words being the same.  The Eucharistic Prayer they used was similar to what we’re using over the summer (Prayer C, BCP, p.369) in the sense that it involved a dialogue between the priest and the people as part of the prayer.

Because they were going to the harbor after the service, they forwent coffee hour, which they referred to as “Agape.”  All in all it was a great day in church and quite wonderful to worship in such a beautiful place as the Isle of Skye, whose landscape does naught if not inspire praise.

Fr. Ryan+

Where we stayed on the Isle of Skye, Ullinish Country Lodge.

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