Monday, 1 April 2013

St Giles’ Cathedral (High Kirk)

Morning Service, Easter Sunday, 31st March 2013, 11.30am
Minister: Very Revd Gilleasbuig Macmillan

It may be the mother church of Presbyterianism, but St Giles’ never quite feels like a Church of Scotland church, thanks to its ornate décor and fancy costumes – the choir in monk-like tunics and the clergy and ushers in gowns that would sit equally well on a university chancellor or a town crier.

Perhaps I should have visited St Giles’ earlier. As it is, I’ve been tackling Edinburgh’s historic churches in reverse order of dissent. Old St Paul’s was founded by a breakaway group from St Giles’, and St Columba’s by the Castle was founded by a breakaway group from Old St Paul’s. Of course, walking out and forming new churches is a time-honoured tradition in Scottish church history, but it didn’t occur to me at the outset of my mission to follow the order in which the various schisms took place.

It’s difficult to know where to sit for the best vantage point in St Giles’, because there’s always something obscured by a substantial pillar, but I struck lucky and managed to see the organist, the back of the choir altos, and the left elbow of the minister when he stood in the pulpit.

The music was wonderful, from the Bach on the organ to the choir’s Britten Te Deum and Vaughan Williams Let all the world in every corner sing, and the congregational hymns included Easter favourites Jesus Christ is risen today and Crown him with many crowns, this last featuring a soaring descant from the choir.

All the choral music left only ten minutes for the sermon, uncharacteristically short by Presbyterian standards and featuring a touching anecdote about the new Pope and various messages about new beginnings and how the Easter story is not merely to be told and retold but to be lived by grown-up Christians who rebel against the idea of a puppeteer god who manipulates people like rag dolls. Not the most profound or challenging sermon ever preached, but on a day when most people were probably thinking about the sleep lost in the change to BST and how soon they could get their jaws around a chocolate egg, maybe it was all anyone was likely to take in. 

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