First Presbyterian Church celebrates Scottish heritage

Published 12:11 am Friday, October 26, 2018


NATCHEZ — One Sunday each year, the lively services at First Presbyterian Church in Natchez are enhanced with colorful banners and the hum of traditional Scottish bagpipes as the congregation joins in a commemorative celebration of its cultural heritage.

At 10:30 a.m.  Sunday at 10:30 a.m., the church service will begin with a processional of flags to the sound of bagpipe music played by James Clark as the church hosts its annual “Kirkin’ O’ the Tartans” ceremony.

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Legend says that in the 18th century, the Scottish were forbidden by English government from wearing their tartans — plaid garments — and playing their bagpipes because the English thought their loyalties should be to England and not to their Scottish faith and their family, said the Rev. Joan Gandy, pastor at First Presbyterian Church.

The Scottish secretly tore a piece of their tartans and hid them under their clothes for church, Gandy said, and would touch them while saying a blessing or prayer.

Though many of the church members may not claim their Scottish descent on an ordinary Sunday, Gandy said the congregation seeks to honor those who may have faced challenges while living out their faith in the past.

“It is relevant today because we’re remembering the people who may not have had an easy time practicing their religion,” she said. “We use this service to honor them.”

During the service, the church recognizes the different Scottish clans that exist in the congregation today by calling them out by name, Gandy said. As each clan is called, that family will stand and receive a blessing.

The church has approximately 150 members who will be called by their clan name, but every person in attendance will be blessed before the service concludes, Gandy said.

“After calling out each clan name, I say ‘There is one clan under God’ … where everyone else stands,” she said. “We are all one clan as the church.”

Office administrator Pam McNeil said she has been a member of the church for more than a decade, and each year the church fills up with visitors for the special service.

“We have a lot of community members who come just for this,” McNeil said. “We have colorful banners dressed like the flags of the clans draped around the banisters. … It’s a very pretty service to watch and be a part of. … There is also a luncheon afterward. Anyone there is invited to join in and fellowship with us.”