Sunday, 10 March 2013

St Columba’s Free Church

Gaelic service, Sunday 10 March 2013, 3pm
Minister: Prof Donald MacLeod

No, it isn’t an accidental double-posting. I went to two churches today, both called St Columba’s and both on Johnston Terrace. You can read about the other one, St Columba's by the Castle, here

This is a denomination I know well, or used to, although St Columba’s wasn’t the church I attended regularly. I might get round to revisiting Buccleuch in due course, but I chose St Columba’s today because it was offering one of its monthly Gaelic services. Greyfriars Kirk (Church of Scotland) holds a weekly Gaelic service, the only other I’m aware of in Edinburgh, and that’s also on the list for a future Sunday, but until today it had been a long time since I’d been to a Gaelic service anywhere or sung a Gaelic psalm.

There’s nothing quite like a Gaelic psalm, and those unfamiliar with this unique heterophonic style of psalmody should check out how it can sound at its best. I can’t claim that our little company produced anything resembling such a sound, but since there were only sixteen of us we didn’t do too badly.

It was a familiar format: three psalms (or parts thereof), a Bible reading and a sermon, and prayers for all the usual things plus a petition for our language, literature and music and for the viability of our communities and culture – not something English-speaking congregations have to worry about on the whole. And there were some familiar faces; I’ve said before that Edinburgh can feel like a small place, but Gaelic Edinburgh is even smaller.

Gaelic is the fourth language I’ve encountered on my mission so far, the others being English (obviously), Latin (mutedly) and whatever “tongues” is (if you believe it’s a language at all). Beachd no dhà bhuam sa Ghàidhlig gu h-ìosal, dhuibhse aig a bheil ùidh annta … but this first bit will be in English.

Donald Macleod preaches a thorough sermon, in typical Free Church style. The reading was Mark 4: 21-41, and the sermon concentrated on verses 35-41, Jesus quelling the storm. To summarise, this episode illustrates the power of Christ and the frailty of the disciples. Jesus was keeping an appointment with the elements; he knew the storm was coming. After a hard day’s preaching, trying to make the disciples understand how the kingdom of God could grow like a mustard seed, he slept the sleep of the righteous in the boat, the humble carpenter leaving the sailing to fishermen who knew the sea better than he did.

At this point, Prof MacLeod added a little aside about how the church should assign responsibility according to aptitude. Hmmm, thinks the Soul Searcher, and if the Free Church excludes women from ministry and eldership, what does that say about our aptitude? Grumble, grumble . . .

Anyway, getting back to the story, Jesus rebuked the wind and the storm immediately subsided. The boat is like the church, beset by conflict but still sailing after two thousand years. And when we ask ourselves, as Christ asked the disciples, why after all we’ve seen and heard we still do not believe, we should remember that we are all little boats on the storm-tossed loch and that Jesus can awake in us and bring about the same great calm witnessed that day in Galilee.

Would I go back? Probably. I’m on a roll now, having found three churches out of fourteen that warrant a second visit. And now, English readers, it’s time for you to tune out. Na smuaintean Gàidhlig air an robh mi a-mach na bu tràithe:

A bheil cànan gu diofar mas e an aon teachdaireachd a gheibhear san eaglais an ath dhoras sa Bheurla? Chan eil fhios agam a bheil a’ cheist seo a’ cur dragh sam bith air muinntir na h-eaglais (an Eaglais Shaor neo eaglaisean eile) aig àrd ìre, agus le sin tha mi a’ ciallachadh aig an ìre far an dèan iad co-dhùnaidhean air trèanadh mhinistearan agus gnothaichean rianachd eile a bheir buaidh air co-thional is coimhearsnachd.

Nan tigeadh e gu h-aon ’s gu dhà, taghadh eadar cànan is eaglais … uill, tha Dia buan ach bidh cànanan a’ dol à bith. Agus ann an saoghal caochlaideach làn peacadh, nach eil soisgeul ann an cànan cèin nas cudromaiche na cleachdadh comhfhurtail san t-seann chànan air sgàth ’s gur ann san t-seann chànan a tha e?

Dh’fhalbh Eubhrais is Greugais is Laidinn, agus chan e naomh-chànan a tha sa Ghàidhlig. Tha an eathair bheag fhathast a’ seòladh, ach tha na tonnan a’ leum a-steach. Nuair a dh’fhalbhas ginealach MhicLeòid, am bi ministearan ann a bhios comasach air searmon a thoirt seachad sa Ghàidhlig, neo am bi seirbheisean mar a chunnaic mi an-diugh air am fàgail ann an taigh-tasgaidh eachdraidh na h-eaglais?


  1. I hope you come back for the regular worship service, rather than the Gaelic services which have a significantly smaller attendance. The Services in English are at 11am and 530pm. You will be made very welcome.

  2. Thanks. I may yet do that. Actually, I thought 16 was a pretty good turnout considering how few and far between we Gaelic speakers are.