Monday, 2 December 2013

Duddingston Kirk

First Sunday in Advent, early service, Sunday 01 December 2013, 10am
Minister: Rev Dr James Jack

A reader of and commentator on my blog asked if I’d be interested in visiting her church, which she described in somewhat cryptic terms as a “south-east Edinburgh gem … near the shores of a loch”. Aha! Where else but Duddingston Kirk?

Everyone’s seen Henry Raeburn’s famous picture of the skating minister, the Rev Robert Walker, skating on Duddingston Loch, lovely views of which you can see from the kirk gardens, although Walker’s parish was the Canongate Kirk.

Whether Duddingston’s current incumbent, Dr Jack, is a skating man or not I couldn’t say, but he does have a magnificent baritone voice and a sense of humour that the congregation seemed to appreciate, and I have to say I enjoyed the service. So thank you, Eileen, for the recommendation.

I failed, however, to count how many people were present, mostly because I sat at the back and couldn’t see into the transepts or gallery, but it was a fair sized crowd, and that was for the early service. They do another one at 11.30, so it seems to be a thriving congregation.

We kicked off with – hurrah! – a paraphrase, The Race that Long in Darkness Pined (Isaiah 9:2-7), and as I observed at Craigrownie, it’s nice to know that the paraphrases haven’t been completely forgotten in the move to CH4. The hymn selection was much in the same vein too – Rejoice, the Lord is King, Away in a Manger and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, plus the more lyrically experimental ‘I have a dream,’ a man once said to the tune of Repton. I wonder if that one will survive to CH5. Slightly odd, though, to choose Lift up your Hearts! We Lift them to the Lord, when we could have had Tell out, my Soul, the Greatness of the Lord to the same tune (Woodlands). During one of the hymns (I don’t recall which), Dr Jack wandered up to the back rather like an exam invigilator, but if he hadn’t done so I wouldn’t have been able to hear his super voice; there are some funny acoustics in that space.

It reminded me of Craigrownie in other ways too. Maybe it’s the village setting, or maybe it’s because both Craigrownie and Duddingston sit somewhere towards the trad end of the Church of Scotland spectrum where their style of worship is concerned – sung amen, stained glass, minister in academic robes, etc.

The readings were Isaiah 2:1-5 and Matthew 24:36-44, the children’s address was about Mary and the sermon was on the theme, No One Knows the Day and Hour. Last time I heard a sermon on this theme, before this year’s mission, I almost missed a ferry from Mull back to the mainland, because no one had told me the service would last almost two hours – I really didn’t know the hour – and with only 13 in the congregation it would have been rude to leave early. But I made it back to Craignure in time on that occasion, and luckily Dr Jack runs a tighter ship than the evangelicals of Tobermory.

He launched into his sermon with a few lines of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, but he quickly turned to the disconnect we can feel during the festive season – “an uneasiness, or even embarrassment, that hovers unspoken over the frivolity of Christmas” while we all run around like headless chickens and Isaiah’s vision for peace among the nations seems lost in the machinery of commerce and warfare. Who wants to listen for the voice of a mouldy old prophet? But we need a mental intermission in the midst of the extravaganza, a little head space to raise that faith question.

I agree. I hate Christmas, and there are still 20-odd shopping days to go.

There were prayers, of course, for those killed, injured and bereaved in the Glasgow helicopter crash. How could there not have been? It fitted with the sermon, really. On the one hand, everyone’s so busy with their exciting lives and their profound ambitions and their trivial daily concerns, and then in an instant everything can change utterly. No one knows the day or the hour. 


  1. Not long to go now till you finish your year. I await your conclusions with interest.

  2. You mean you can't already predict the outcome?

  3. No, but I suspect you are not heading to happy clappy land.

  4. No, indeed I am not. I need to draw some conclusions. Watch this space.