Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Earlier this week, I spoke of how Edinburgh had the unique ability to have a foot in two arenas: the very ancient (as is illustrated by the Royal Mile) and the very modern (a stone’s throw away, on Princess Street, with the light rail system and the vast array of stores).
But here’s a fun fact that really throws a different light on my perception of American history.
Last night, we sang at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh. I’ve dreamed of having the Folk Choir sing here since the day I crossed that threshold, in 2008. Its sense of mission, outreach to the poor, its celebration of the arts while simultaneously encouraging the corporal works of mercy – all these things made me hopeful that we might be able to grace the edifice with our own sacred song. Through the efforts of one of our Scottish friends, we were able to do just that.
As we came into the kirk, we were greeted by their gracious staff: Martin Ritchie and their pastor, Rev. Richard Frazer. And as any good hosts would do, they showed us around, commenting on architectural and historical and ecclesial matters of interest.
But here’s what really took me for a loop: the cornerstone of Greyfriars was laid down on December 25, 1620. And that year should be one that is known to a few Americans. It was the year the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, in what was to eventually become the state of Massachusetts.
Sometimes we visit places like Jamestown or Plymouth Plantation or Williamsburg and think of how ancient and enduring the United States is. But we are mere young-uns! Edinburgh was building cathedrals when a beachhead was being established in the New World. And that is a humbling thing to reflect upon.
The Greyfriars experience was eye-opening: presiders from the Presbyterian, Catholic, and Methodist traditions (including a woman presider!), an acoustic space to die for, a musically eager community that had a strong sense of service to the city of Edinburgh, a tangible sense of warmth and hospitality.
For me, hiding behind my guitar as we sang psalms and hymns and inspired songs, Greyfriars Kirk afforded a glimpse of a different kind of church: one that spanned denominations and genders, built upon commonalities, celebrated the arts and protected the vulnerable.
In that respect it was ageless – a vision that might just be embraced, whether the year was 1620 or 2016.