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Family, heritage and nostalgia proved to be the winning combination for a “Kirkin’ the Tartan” anniversary service at St. Simon and St. Jude church in Belleisle Creek. The church, in the Parish of Upper Kennebecasis, celebrates its 140th anniversary this year.

The Rev. Dr. Chris McMullen, priest-in-charge, explained how the service, held Oct. 29, came to be:

“Researching the origins of the church, we discovered that while most of the first congregants were of Loyalist roots, the later settlers were almost always Scottish of Scots-Irish origins.

“So the decision was made to honour the many families and individuals who built and maintained this church and congregation with a Kirkin’ the Tartan service.”

Kirkin’ the Tartan is a Scottish tradition of presenting the clan tartans to be blessed.

The church was packed with overflow using the side room as Archbishop David Edwards welcomed everyone to the church.

“We broke 100!” said Chris, adding that a Sunday service usually draws 8-10 people.

Chris was dressed in Hunting McMillan tartan and many others wore kilts and sashes in the tartan of their clan.

Chris set a budget of $700 to purchase 24 small tartans from a store in Edinburgh, Scotland, each symbolizing a family or group that made up the life and mission of the church over the years. Representatives of all but three families were present and stood when their family name was read out.

Chris used family connections, the telephone and Facebook to track down families. 

Chris and Bishop David presided over the service, with assistance from Debbie McMillan (organist), Mary Beth Keirstead (soloist), Laughlin Baskin (reader) and Dr. Murray Gillies (reader). 

The five Benson sisters —Marilyn Keith, Cathy Thorne, Carol Law, Helen Clark and Jeannie Benson — sang several old hymns during Holy Communion.

“I stand before you a fraud,” said David in his sermon, explaining that his heritage is Welsh, Irish and English, but not Scottish. “I’m always nervous speaking in front of a Scottish crowd!”

David noted that Simon and Jude do not play prominent roles in the gospels.

“They appear and disappear,” he said, adding that their names might be part of the reason.

There were two Simons among the 12 disciples, and Simon Peter gets much more attention. And Jude is a short form of Judas, which is unfortunate as most liken the name to Judas Iscariot.

But many years ago, churches started using the two names on their buildings as a sort of message.

“It was to remind people that the church is about the forgotten people,” said David. “The Christian faith is about the forgotten.”

Ephesians 2:19-22, the second reading, talks about fellow citizens. If you wanted to be special in the days of Jesus, you had to be a citizen of the city. 

“Most people weren’t,” said David. “Society taught them they would never be good enough. But Paul tells us they can be good enough — to be citizens of heaven. Jesus’ death and rising makes them good enough.”

Celebrating 140 years, “this place has played an important role in anchoring this community,” he said. “We see the tartans all around and we’re reminded of clans. Clans also anchor communities.”

As Christians, we are part of his community — anchored in the body of Christ.

God’s message can be summed up in three directives: Follow me, follow Jesus, love others.

“We tend to overcomplicate things but it’s that simple,” said David. “It’s the essence of our faith and what we celebrate today.”

For the Kirkin’ of Tartans, Chris read a description of each of the 24 groups and families represented, asking each family to stand as he read their name. Afterwards, David dedicated the tartans “to the memory of their forebears in the faith, and the praise and worship of God.”

Two tartans of note were the clergy tartan, in honour of the 25 clerics who have served in the parish over 140 years; and the Maple Leaf tartan, in remembrance of the indigenous population who lived here first. 

At the end of the service, Chris directed everyone to the basket of flowers at the back of the sanctuary, inviting everyone to take a few and place them on the graves of their departed loved ones in the adjoining cemetery.

A reception was held at the community hall nearby. ACW members put on a lunch of sandwiches, sweets and cake, but the centrepiece of the spread was haggis, neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes), which Chris encouraged everyone to try.

Murray Gillies, a veterinarian in Sussex, was a layreader in the parish under the Ven. Leo Martin. 

“I was raised here,” he said. “It’s nice to see the history of our family.”

Jeannie Benson was similarly pleased with the service. She and her four sisters attended Sunday school at the church.

“Today was fantastic,” she said. “It was a walk down memory lane — and well needed.”

While Chris thought up the event, he wasn’t at all sure how it would play out.

“I was very nervous,” he said. “The parish had never done anything like this before. But they were keen on the anniversary and getting families together. 

“We prayed for representatives of all the families. I’m really thrilled to see how it all came together. There was a wonderful spirit here today. The Holy Spirit was present.”

Only three families were not represented in person, but in those cases, a member is in care at a nursing home. Chris will give each one a piece of their tartan as a keepsake. The tartans will then go to the parish quilters to be made into quilts. 

Families and groups represented by tartans 
Indigenous peoples
Belleisle Creek
Clergy of the parish

1.  The Benson sisters - Marilyn Keith, Cathy Thorne, Carol Law, Helen Clark and Jeannie Benson - were featured singers. Note the tartans hanging on the church walls behind them. 

2.  The Rev. Dr. Chris McMullen in Hunting McMillan tartan.

3.  Archbishop David Edwards during his sermon.

4.  The crowd lines up for refreshments that included haggis, neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes). Everyone had a chance to catch up with old friends and neighbours.

McKnight photos

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