Friday, May 15, 2009

Kirking of the Tartan Service

Scottish Highland Games take place all over the United States over the next six months. Sometimes Presbyterian pastors are asked to conduct the Kirking ceremony at the Games or host a kirking service at their churches. I've been doing this for 15 years, but I don't think this is taught at seminary. So here's my rendition of what a kirking should look like:

Kirkin' of the Tartan Service – Kirking of the Tartan Service

(I have done this on many occasions, at different Games & in churches in the United States. I also speak at Burns Suppers and have given humorous after-dinner speeches at St. Andrews Day events. Contact me by e-mail at if you need any advice about hosting your own church service.

(The following is a copy of the service that I have used at several Highland Games)


On this special day, we gather for the Kirkin of the Tartan. In the middle of the eighteenth century, when our forefathers in Scotland had been defeated in the Jacobite rebellion, the wearing of the Tartan, the playing of the bagpipes and the bearing of arms were all ruthlessly outlawed by the Hanovarian English government.

On Sunday mornings at church, during the years when these bans were publicly enforced, Scots people would secretly carry a small piece of their clan's tartan to church under their clothes. Thus, when the minister ended the worship service with the benediction, that tartan was blessed and God's favor was bestowed upon the Scottish people.

Today, we celebrate their persistence and strong independence by proudly displaying the tartans and publicly parading the clans to the stirring sounds of the pipes.
Clan representatives and flag bearers are piped across the Games field. They stand in line in front of the altar.

We begin this commemoration with the roll call of the Clans. As you hear your own clan being called, please stand.

Honored representatives, proudly declare the names of your sacred clans!

Starting at the left, the Flag bearers will state the name of their Clan, Society or District. The Flags are held upright. When finished with the Roll Call, the pastor announces and gives the prayer of Dedication. During this prayer, heads are bowed and flags are tipped at a 45 degree angle.

On behalf of all Scots away from Scotland, these honored representatives present their tartans before Almighty God and ask His blessings on these sacred colors.

Let us dedicate these tartans to the One, True and Living God.

Prayer: Almighty God, who has promised that in all places where You record Your Name, that You will meet with Your servants to bless them; fulfill Your sacred promise and make this field a place of power, heritage, courage and prayer. May our worship be offered in the Holy Name of Jesus; may You bless us with the presence of the Holy Spirit; may You sanctify this time as profitable to our hearts and souls.

We rejoice in this opportunity to dedicate these tartans to You as symbols of the unwavering loyalty, steadfast faith and great achievements of our Scottish forefathers. We praise You for their ingenuity and integrity; for their respect of truth and justice; for their rejection of hype and hypocrisy; and for their regard of liberty, life and the equality of all people.

Grant us, O God, the ability to remain true to the faith of our fathers, which has enlightened, encouraged and enhanced the people of our beloved lands. Use us to bring peace and goodwill on earth and to advance equality and justice throughout the world, through the name of our precious Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Flag bearers raise their heads and hold the flags upright.

Piper, play a joyful sound to the Lord! "Amazing Grace."

The Flowers of the Forest

The pastor tells the story of the Flowers of the Forest.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Scottish people joined their beloved King James IV in a battle against Henry VIII at Flodden Field. Highlanders, lowlanders and borderers fought side by side against an overwhelming foe.

In the midst of this tragic battle, in which 10000 Scottish warriors were killed, beloved King James was also slain. Many leaders and nobles, knights and common folk lost their lives. It was later said that "the slaughter struck at every farm and household throughout lowland Scotland."

All those who had fallen in battle, the best and finest in the Scottish kingdom, came to be known as the "Flowers of the Forest." To this day, Scots honor their dead and loved ones by listing their names at the gathering of the clans and playing the beautiful pipers' lament, "The Flowers of the Forest."

Please stand, as we name the Flowers of the Forest of our people gathered here today. Clan bearers, lower your flags.

Clan flags are lowered to the ground. The pastor reads the names submitted previously by the representatives. After this list is read, the pastor asks, "Are there any others?"
Once all the names have been read and expressed, the pastor then says:

Piper, play for our beloved people the "Flowers of the Forest."

After the playing of this lament, there is a ten second silence. The flags are solemnly raised to the upright position.

Let us dismiss with prayer.

The flags are again tipped to 45 degrees and heads bowed.

Prayer: May the Light of the World shine within and around you, like the sunlight to warm your heart, like a great peat fire to signify welcome and friendship, hospitality and faith.

May the Water of Life fall upon you - the sweetness of a gentle rain, growing in your souls and strengthening your heart.

May the Holy Spirit shower upon you the blessings of God, cleansing your souls and lifting you to the sacred heights of heaven.

And may the soft earth embrace you; may the land that you love enhance your spirit, lift up your heart and grow goodness, courage and faith throughout your life till that precious day in God's sacred time when you are called to be a flower in His everlasting forest, both now and forevermore. Amen.

Upon completion of the prayer, flags are held upright and the clan bearers are led off the field by the piper, who usually plays "Scotland the Brave."

If you need any other information or help, or even a Kirking children's sermon, contact me at


Sarahlynn said...


Todd said...

Please see this article on the Scottish Tartans Museum's web site regarding the history of the Kirkin' service: