Mike and I are visiting Scotland for the very first time this week “on holiday”, as the British say. We’re celebrating a milestone anniversary this year and we also have dear friends in Edinburgh where we’ll conclude our trip this coming weekend.
Mike’s paternal grandparents were natives of Cornwall, England and mine immigrated to the US from Norway so neither of us can claim Scottish blood. The feeling of being at home yesterday morning came instead the moment we entered the local kirk (church) and were greeted by people whom we instantly sensed were truly family.
Drymen is a village so small we have not yet found it on ANY map of Scotland, but it was large enough to hold our B&B and a few shops. After we arrived Saturday from the States we overcame our jetlag long enough to ask the reception clerk if there might be a village church we could visit on Sunday. He directed us just down the road to the only Protestant church within a 30 minute radius, the Drymen Church of Scotland.
The service did not begin until 11:30 am but we arrived early and squeezed our rental car into one of only four spaces in the tiny “car park” (parking lot) out front. It was raining, as it has been most of our three days in this beautiful country, and we sat outside waiting for others to arrive. We saw two or three senior citizens pick their way through the cemetery beside the church, bent low under umbrellas, and we assumed we would be on the younger side of those worshipping within.
What a wonderful surprise awaited us! In a village like Drymen, many parishioners walk to church, and dozens had arrived from the other direction including a number of families with young children. As soon as we entered the fellowship hall where pre-service coffee was being served, we were so warmly greeted it was like being home at First Baptist of Wheaton. And when we finally entered the sanctuary, we were thrilled to find a vital, believing congregation of over 100 people of all ages.
“This is not a typical Scottish kirk,” the session clerk told us with a twinkle in his eye. “This place preaches the Word of God, is filled with the Holy Spirit, and practices prayer. And do you know how many ministers we’ve had since this church was founded after the Reformation? Only 19!”
19 ministers whose pastorates averaged 25-50 years EACH?! Mike and I looked at each other in amazement. In America a typical pastorate might be four years. “Ah, but don’t ye see,” Bill explained, “there’s nowhere to go from here. Our communion service dates back to the days of Bonnie Prince Charlie!”
Following the service, Bill led us through their cemetery and we stopped at a grave marked “Liddel.”
“You’ve seen Chariots of Fire, haven’t you now?” Bill asked us. “Well, Eric’s parents were part of our church and they are buried right here. He died in a prison camp in China, you remember.”
We enjoyed our time with the Drymen church so much we traveled 30 minutes in the other direction yesterday evening to join a regional praise gathering led by one of their members. As the evening ended, Mike was asked to offer the final prayer.
“It’s odd to be so far from home,” Mike acknowledged in his blessing, “but not far from family. What a privilege to pray for both at the same time. Lord, bless your church in Scotland and your children in America. Thank you that we are one in Christ.”
We may never visit Scotland again, but we know we’ll see our kin from Drymen one day in a place far more beautiful than this.