Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Edinburgh 28.6.09 (1): Dignitaries Hither, Divines Yon

Fanfare now over and done with, Deo gratias. The 400th anniversary event was today. Dignitaries hither, divines yon. The service was moving, especially the communion, celebrated by the assistant pastor Louise Duncan, an Ulsterwoman. Huge shining goblets of inscribed silver filled with port wine, aromatic in the still air of the church, silver platters of bread.

All welcome. Louise emphasized that South Leith is a parish that invites everyone—young, old, everyone—to the table. The opening song was Marty Haugen’s “All Are Welcome in This Place.”

Several older men in kilts. A Mr. Lindsay, a high constable of Leith (if I heard correctly), spoke to me afterwards, twinkling blue eyes and sharp nose like my grandfather’s. Florid complexion. There’s no way we can’t be related, somewhere back in history.

Yesterday, we went with Ian to the church to see if we could help people set up for the celebration. A member of the congregation, Margaret B., gave us a tour, showing us cabinets of old communion tokens in the vestry, which had a Raeburn pointing of a former minister above them (or perhaps Raeburn did only the face).

I particularly liked going to the gallery and looking out at the beautiful carved hammerbeam wooden ceiling with its interlacing woodwork and angels with texts. Margaret told us her family’s pew had been in the gallery when she was a girl, and it bothered her when she realized people were walking to the gallery steps over gravestones each Sunday—and thus wearing down the ancient stones with their inscriptions, on the church floor.

So she got a friend of hers who was with an historical preservation group to photograph the stones. She also told she had an ah-ha moment when she looked down one day as a girl and saw the phrase, Hic iacet. She said to herself (drawing herself up and raising her brows as she told us this), “Ah ha! Hic iacet.

And I had no idea in the world of the point of that story, no idea about why the inscription suddenly struck her as meaningful. Had she suddenly realized she could read and understand the inscriptions in Latin?

After the tour, we helped a bit setting up the communion things and tables for cake and champagne. Margaret was apparently for years the head of the communion committee and has just been removed from it, which, Ian told us, explained why, when he asked her to give us a tour, she replied, “Oh, but I believed you considered me dispensable.”

We ended the tour with Margaret sitting in the vestry in a venerable old chair made and reserved for the clergy, with us across the table from her on wee elders’ chairs. I had to imagine she knew full well the dignity she was assuming in choosing the dignitary’s seat, since she had tsked-tsked in another room that someone had placed a box on an old stool made to hold a coffin at a funeral and said, “I believe these old objects should be reserved for their proper use or otherwise kept from use.”

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