Church of Scotland and Church of England (2)

(Thank you for your kind comments and encouragement following last week’s post. Hmm.)

This week I’m again comparing the Church of England with the Church of Scotland – looking on the lighter side. (Please remember that my experience of the Kirk is now 22 years old, and also largely confined to the east of Scotland. The West is rather different. On the islands there are still churches which have services in Gaelic as well as English.)

But for example, clerical stereotypes. Your stereotyped Anglican vicar is – well, amiable. Other words that come to mind are impractical, ineffectual, nervous and well-meaning.

Your stereotyped Kirk or other Presbyterian minister is – I suggest – dour (translation – the opposite of cheerful.) Anyone of my generation brought up in Scotland will be familiar with the Rev I M Jolly, as comically portrayed by Rikki Fulton on TV every Hogmanay – all lugubrious face and pointless slow anecdote.

Another dour stereotype is fiery and threatening. The Kirk’s ministers are the people who forbid fun: preferably any fun, but especially fun on Sundays. Football, cinemas, television – even novel reading, a few generations back. Presbyterian ministers preach hell and damnation, and the complete depravity of man (and woman).

I’m sure I don’t need to say that my actual experience of ministers, and for that matter, vicars, bears no resemblance to these stereotypes at all. It is true that the West of Scotland and the islands still have a bit more respect for Sunday than most of the UK, and indeed, why not? I think it’s sad that Christians have thrown away the Fourth Commandment so blithely, but that’s another post.

Costume is another small difference. Anglican vicars wear their collars back to front. Church of Scotland ministers have a white collar with two little tails. Their robes are more likely to be black than white.

The Church of Scotland may possibly have a book of permitted liturgy somewhere, but no one refers to it or hands out prayer books to follow. Only one person ever speaks at a time, and it’s normally the minister.

Then there’s the music. Robed choirs are unlikely.

A lot of the hymns and worship songs are shared – among all denominations, I imagine. The Methodists, I trust, don’t begrudge any of us Charles Wesley.

But the Presbyterian tendency in the past to distrust anything other than the Bible has meant that the Kirk makes a lot more use of paraphrases, and of metrical psalms.

This was taken to an extreme in the much-reviled Third Edition of the Church of Scotland hymnbook (1973). (Its worst sin was leaving out “What a friend we have in Jesus”.) Like the previous edition from the 1920s, this one contained the entire set of metrical psalms and 67 paraphrases at the beginning (we never used this, ever). But when you finally got onto the hymns themselves, every section also began with more psalms. For example your first choice of a hymn on the Resurrection was a part of Psalm 118.

My own churches, Hope Park and St George’s Tillydrone, used very few of these psalms, although certainly “All people that on earth do dwell” (the Old Hundredth) was and is frequently sung, alongside “The Lord’s my shepherd”, and “Come, let us to the Lord our God”, a paraphrase of Hosea chapter 2.

You might argue that the psalms needed to be sung by the congregation, because there is little liturgy in terms of “psalm of the week” or responsive chanting. The Church of Scotland does not chant. I don’t think I’d ever even come across the Gloria before attending church in England.

Largely of course, what we sing depends on the traditionalism or otherwise of the individual church rather than the denomination.

But there are still national differences. The Kirk, or mine at any rate, didn’t sing “Jerusalem”, with its reference to England, or “Morning has broken.” Or rather we sang the tune of “Morning has broken”, as a Christmas carol, “Child in the manger”, words translated by Lachlan MacBean from the Gaelic of Mary MacDonald.

The Scottish translation of “Stille Nacht” is “Still the night”, not “Silent” – and it doesn’t make the shepherds quake.

The English, on the other hand, are missing out on great hymns by Horatius Bonar. As well as “I heard the voice of Jesus say”, he wrote the magnificent “Blessing and honour and glory and power”, lyrics bursting with worship and worthy of Wesley. Lyrics can be found here:, although they’re missing at least one verse.

Along with Graham Kendrick’s mid-century songs, we had more from John Bell “of the Iona community”, and Ian White, the man who set so many of the psalms to modern music.

I shall finish by mentioning one little solitary bit of liturgy or formal wording from Hope Park in St Andrews. Presbyterian confirmation services do not require bishops, and happen with your own minister in your own church. And following every confirmation we sang from memory the Aaronic blessing “The Lord bless you and keep you” from the book of Numbers.

(Readers of “We Do Not Kill Children” may remember Dorac blessing Gormad with these words.)

Love from the PPI Blogger

1 Comment
  • Judith Anne Renton

    8th March 2019 at 10:38 pm Reply

    “I heard the Voice of Jesus say” is a very special hymn to was my mum’s favourite and we sung it at her funeral. Beautiful lyrics.
    And nice to see you slipped in a nod to Dorac and Gormad…

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