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How to Organize a Kirkin’ of the Tartan

HISTORY OF THE KIRKIN’ O’ THE TARTAN 

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Dundee Presbyterian Church, Omaha, Nebraska

The story of the Kirkin’ of the Tartan is a modern one. The ceremony is of American origin, though based on Scottish history and legend. The term “Kirkin’ O’ the Tartan” brings together a number of Scottish terms. 

Kirk is the word for church and tartan is the name for the distinctive wool plaids representative of Scottish clans, or families. Therefore, this service is a churching, or blessing of the church family in the church. In Scotland the Kirk refers to the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland. 

The Kirkin’ uses some order from a Scottish church service, but is an American invention and was first held on April 27, 1941, by the late Dr. Peter Marshall, Scottish-born Chaplain of the U.S. Senate and minister of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, Washington, D.C. After Dr. Marshall’s death, the Kirkin’ moved from place to place and in 1954 was held at the Washington National Cathedral, where it has been held ever since, and is sponsored by the St. Andrew’s Society. 

The Tartan, with its famous plaid weave, is the symbol of a particular Scottish family (or clan) and each family has a personalized pattern and color scheme. Smaller families often did not have their own Tartan but adopted the Tartan of a larger Clan. They would also support that Clan in battle. Today, the Tartan has evolved and plaids can represent nations, states, organizations, businesses, societies, and even individuals. But foremost, the Tartan stands as a symbol of a Family. 

There was a time when the wearing of tartans was illegal when the English government was trying to break up the strong ties within the clans. Legend has it that a Scot would carry to church a piece of concealed tartan to be blessed. The prohibition against tartans lasted for nearly 50 years. When at last repealed, the Church of Scotland celebrated with a Service of Family Covenant, at which time the tartan of each family was openly and freely offered as a covenant for the Lord’s blessing. 

We are conducting our Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans worship ceremony to both bless our Families and to acknowledge the historical roots of our church. Although we honor the Scots, Irish, and Welch tartans within our congregation, we also celebrate the family, regardless of historical heritage.

If you are interested in one near you, contact them and find out their plans for the next event.  

As we learn of upcoming events, we will post them on our website and in our regular Scots in New England e-news (send us your email to sign up).  

Also, we are sure we have not found all the Kirkin’ events, so if you know of others, please send them to us via our email [email protected]

NOTE from the editor: We are collecting Kirkin’ of the Tartan (KT) events around New England.  Here are some that have happened in the past and we are assuming will happen again.  To paraphrase the financial sector, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

FIND A KIRKIN’ O’ THE TARTAN IN NEW ENGLAND

CONNECTICUT

  • Celtic Cultural Alliance in Connecticut, First Presbyterian Church – South Windsor,
  • First Presbyterian Church – Stamford, CT
  • First Presbyterian Church – New Haven, CT
  • First Presbyterian Church – Greenwich, CT
  • First Presbyterian Church – Deep River, CT
  • Newtown Presbyterian Church – Newtown, CT 
  • Scottish-American Society of Greater Hartford – Hartford, CT 
  • Scottish-American Society of Southwestern Connecticut – Milford, CT 
  • Scottish-American Society of New Haven – New Haven, CT 
  • Scottish Society of Fairfield County – Norwalk, CT 
  • Scottish-American Society of Eastern Connecticut – Stonington, CT
  • St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church – West Hartford, CT 
  • St. Andrew’s Society of Connecticut, St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church – Watertown, CT
  • St. Paul’s on the Green – Norwalk, CT 

MAINE

MASSACHUSETTS

  • Christ Episcopal Church – Andover, MA 
  • Church of the Holy Spirit – Needham, MA 
  • Church of the Transfiguration –Orleans, MA 
  • First Parish Church of Stow and Acton – Stow, MA
  • First Presbyterian Church of Arlington – Arlington, MA
  • First Presbyterian Church of Dorchester – Dorchester, MA
  • First Presbyterian Church of Foxborough – Foxborough, MA)
  • First Presbyterian Church of Lexington – Lexington, MA 
  • First Presbyterian Church of Waltham – Waltham, MA 
  • First Presbyterian Church – Wellesley, MA 
  • Grace Presbyterian Church – Somerville, MA
  • Old South Presbyterian Church – Boston, MA
  • Salem Presbyterian Church – Salem, MA 
  • St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church – Boston, MA
  • St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church – Chatham, MA 
  • St. Mary’s Episcopal Church – Winchester, MA 
  • St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church – Acton, MA 
  • St. Nicholas United Methodist Church – Hull, MA
  • St. Paul’s Episcopal Church – Brookline, MA
  • St. Paul’s Episcopal Church – Westwood, MA 
  • St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church – Beverly, MA 
  • Tartan Day, St, Andrew’s Society, Massachusetts – Taunton, MA
  • United Presbyterian Church of Reading – Reading, MA

NEW HAMPSHIRE

RHODE ISLAND

VERMONT


Ready to host a
Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan Ceremony?

So, you want to plan a Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans ceremony? Well, you’ve come to the right place! Scots in New England is pleased to present this guide for those who may not have planned this ceremony before. It is my hope that this will be an enlightening, uplifting, and fun experience for the participants and congregation, as well as the organizers.
If you have participated in or experienced a Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans before, you know that the pageantry, music, and message can be inspiring.

In this guide, we will cover both a typical Church ceremony as well as a secular ceremony as we have created this for settings open to all, regardless of faith.

Scots in New England has created a free guide, packed with tips for planning and holding a Kirkin’. “If you would like a free copy of the “GUIDE TO PLANNING A KIRKIN’ O’ THE TARTAN, simply send an email to: [email protected], and I will get it right out to you; or enter your email below and we will send you a copy of the guide.

Guide to Planning a Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans Ceremony

Get this free guide packed with tips for
planning and holding a Kirkin’

Again, I hope you enjoy the process and the event.  As always, I welcome suggestions for improvements in future editions of this guide.
Le gach deagh dhùrachd, 

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Larry Bethune
Vice-president & Editor-in-Chief
Scots in New England

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