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History of the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan Service

Note: The below history is taken from an article posted in 2007 on the Montreat Scottish Society website.

Worshippers gathered over 75 years ago on Sunday evening, April 27, 1941, in Washington, D.C., at a special service led by Peter Marshall, famed pastor (1935 – 1949) of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Rev. Marshall later also served as Chaplain to the United States Senate (1947 – 1949). Attended by members of the St. Andrews Society of Washington, D.C., the 1941 service had Scottish airs as a prelude to the service.

Designed to raise funds, this Kirkin’ service sought to aid Scottish churches during the early days of World War II, as well as the British war effort, by providing a mobile kitchen, according to the church bulletin. This initial, simple Kirkin’ service later evolved into what is today the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan held in many locations across America. Since 1954, an annual Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan has been held at the National Cathedral in the nation’s capital.

A remembrance of early Scottish Presbyterianism, Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan worship services have spread across America.

Scotland in the mid-18th century saw the English parliament and monarchy (The Disarming Act, 1746 – 1782) banning weapons, as well as the wearing of tartan or kilts by Highland clansmen (effective August 1747). A latter-day legend has it that clansmen would carry small pieces of the banned tartan cloth to the Church (Kirk) and the clergymen would slip a blessing into the service.

The Holy Scriptures were the responsibility of The Beadle, a lay person in the Scottish Kirk. The Beadle brought the Bible into the Kirk for the worship service.

In early history, clans were simply a gathering of peoples for their protection and for economic, political and social support. They were not necessarily related by blood.

Specific tartans developed simply because each area liked to weave a certain design using local herb dyes.

Why then do we celebrate clans and tartans? It is because the clansmen demonstrated true brotherhood and the clan was the family. The tartan is a symbol of this love and togetherness.

In our Kirkin’ service, we remember ancient times, as well as past and present kith and kin, while asking God’s help and blessings in the future.

On Sunday, October 29th, we will honor the Scottish heritage we have as Presbyterians with our annual celebration. A reception will follow in the gym after the 8:45 AM service. We need your help to bake shortbread for our celebration. You may use the recipe below or one of your choosing. The shortbread can be dropped off at the church office from October 23rd-27th or in the gym before the first service. If you have any questions, please contact Diane Burden at 843-771-4404 or Ellen Carney at 843-343-3223.



½ lb, butter (no substitutes – salted is better), softened

1 cup confectioners sugar (aka, powdered sugar)

2 cups sifted, (yes, you must sift!) all-purpose flour (not bread flour)

¼ tsp. salt

½ tsp. genuine (real) vanilla

DIRECTIONS: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar, salt & vanilla. Mix in flour just until combined. Grease (Pam is ok, but butter is ok too) a 7 x 11 pan – a 9 x 9 pan will work, too. Pat the dough into the pan/dish. Prick the top with a fork and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until delicately brown. Cut immediately into small pieces. Remove from the pan when they are cool. Store them at room temperature. DO NOT FREEZE!