Tupelo church celebrates Scottish heritage with Kirkin' o' the Tartan

TUPELO – The scene looked a lot like something from the movie “Braveheart.” Folks were milling about in brightly colored sashes, talking about the proud history of Scotland and of their ancestral clans.
“I had this made in Edinburgh. It’s the tartan of Clan Gunn,” said a beaming Margaret DeMoville, a member of the historical society, The Scottish Dames. She adjusted a long swath of green fabric wrapped around her from her knees to her waist.
DeMoville tossed her long, blonde hair over the tartan draped over her shoulder and explained that her clan was among Scotland’s oldest, descended from Norse and Picts. They were defenders, she said, of liberty and justice.
Around DeMoville her fellow church members donned their tartans, which are cloth patterns representing Scottish families. The colors were pretty, dyed and stitched in the austere, right-angled configuration known to the layman as plaid. The fetching swirl of patterns belied, however, the ferocity of the history being relived.
In walked young Hamilton Lence, a proud lad of 15, with the green tartan of his mother’s clan, Hamilton, wrapped around him as a kilt. He carried on his shoulder a long, gleaming sword, called a Claymore.
“This is the sword of truth. The Hamiltons fought with William Wallace,” said Lence, referring to the 14th century Scottish patriot and leader in his country’s war for independence from England. “They were good fighters,” Lence added with a smile.
The truth Lence spoke of referred to Ephesians 6:13, which tells of strapping on the full armor of God against the day of evil.
“Faith, ferocity and family” might have been the caption under the photograph the members of First Presbyterian Church Tupelo were about to take. They were gearing up for a celebration of their heritage, known as Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan.

Celebration of rebellion
On Oct. 31 many Protestant churches will observe Reformation Sunday, the day that commemorates the 16th century monk, Martin Luther, publicizing his grievances against abuses within the Roman Catholic Church.
The day celebrates a certain righteous indignation, a sentiment that, like the yellow and red threads in their tartans, is woven deep into the Presbyterian character.
Presbyterianism traces its roots to the 16th century, when John Knox, who studied in Switzerland with the famous reformer, John Calvin, brought the tenets of reformed Christianity back to his native Scotland.
Sunday the members of First Presbyterian Church will don their kilts, sound their bagpipes and proudly let fly their tartans, symbols that over the centuries have come to represent the close relationship between their bloodlines and their faith.
Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan actually began as an American homage to Scottish heritage. It was first observed in 1941 in Washington D.C., by Peter Marshall, a Presbyterian minister and chaplain of the U.S. Senate.
“It’s a celebration of heritage but it’s also a celebration of taking the Presbyterian message and faith to the world,” said church member Margaret Gratz, pointing out that one of the largest Presbyterian churches in the world is in South Korea.
This will be the fourth time Tupelo First Presbyterian has celebrated the event.
Family tradition
Somewhere in the checkered fray Sunday the Rev. Tom Groome, First Presbyterian’s senior pastor, will be strutting around in his shirt bearing the St. Andrew’s flag and his kilt with the tartan of Clan Montgomery.
“We were horse grooms. Thus the name,” said a smiling Groome, whose ancestors, like many Presbyterians, came to America in the 1800s and migrated down the Shenandoah Valley.
The most popular tartan on Sunday will be the red checkered Royal Stuart. That tartan was adopted by the Rev. Thomas C. Stuart, First Presbyterian’s first minister and a missionary to the Chickasaw Indians.
Louise Godwin will be front and center for the festivities. Five generations of her family have been members of First Presbyterian, including her daughter, Ann, her son, Chauncey, and five grandchildren.
Godwin said one of her family names was McAllister. “I was christened in this church, and being a member has always meant a great deal to me.”

Contact Galen Holley at (662) 678-1510 or galen.holley@djournal.com.

To attend
– Join First Presbyterian Church Tupelo for its celebration of Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan,
Sunday, Oct. 31, 11 a.m., 400 W. Jefferson St.
There will be a service then an outdoor procession, weather-permitting.

Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal