Categories: Sabbatical Soundings


October 3, 2017

It’s a lovely, clear, and sunny Tuesday morning here in Cambridge, where the university students are having their first full day of classes for the fall term (the “Michaelmas term,” as it is called here).  I passed my audition for the Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, yesterday and had my first rehearsal with them last night… but this morning, I’m here to share about something else:  our weekend in Edinburgh.


As I briefly noted in my travel plans, the stop in Edinburgh was a “nod”, if you will, to my Presbyterian upbringing.  Presbyterianism as it is known in North America has both Scottish and English roots, but in a lot of people’s minds, it is most strongly associated with Scotland.  After all, the established Church of Scotland is Presbyterian (unlike the Church of England, which is Anglican/Episcopalian), and Presbyterianism is the majority/dominant form of Protestantism in Scotland.

Presbyterianism and Congregationalism really are not very different from one another, historically speaking.  These arose as two factions within the single movement known as either “Puritan” or “Reformed,” and they really only divided over some matters of polity (church governance and organization) that in the grand scheme of things aren’t huge.  And in the time of the Reformation, it was really only in England that there arose multiple competing forms of Protestantism; most everywhere else, including in Scotland, it was simply a matter of Catholic or Protestant, with Protestant being whatever form of Protestantism was being encouraged in that place.

And for Scotland, that was the Presbyterian form advocated by John Knox, a man who spent many years in Geneva, Switzerland, working alongside and being taught by none other than John Calvin himself.  Knox was the pastor to the English-speaking congregation in Geneva while he was there.  Eventually, though, he returned to Scotland and brought “the Reformed faith” along with him, becoming the preacher at St. Giles, the “high Kirk of Scotland,” right in the middle of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, just down the street from Edinburgh Castle where Mary Queen of Scots was residing at the time.  When Queen Elizabeth I of England died without an heir, it was Mary Queen of Scots’ son, James the 6th of Scotland, who became King James the 1st of England.

Our Journey

Adam with beagle pillow on airplaneAnyway, enough background and history… Let me share a bit about what we actually did in Edinburgh this past weekend.

After a lovely and rather fun flight on Norwegian Air‘s new direct service from Hartford Bradley to Edinburgh, we arrived into Edinburgh on Friday morning around 9:30 am.  We made our way into the central city, dropped our luggage off at our hotel’s offices (since check-in wasn’t available yet), and began getting our bearings.  We set out toward what our smartphones were telling us was a coffee shop just around the block, simply to discover that it wasn’t there… or, at least, we sure couldn’t find it.  But right across the street from where we were looking, there was a church with a signboard on the sidewalk out front advertising a coffee shop and cafe in their basement.  So, in need of a bit of coffee and a restroom, we decided to check it out, and we’re glad we did!

St. Andrew’s and Saint George’s West

The church, right in the heart of Edinburgh’s “New Town” district, was St. Andrew’s and Saint George’s West, a congregation of the Church of Scotland.  The building, constructed as part of the original development of the New Town district, reflects the neo-classical Georgian architecture of the area.  Uniquely, the sanctuary itself is elliptical in shape.

St. Andrew's and Saint George's West interior - looking toward pulpit area

St. Andrew's and Saint George's West interior - looking across sanctuary from side

This church was the site of a famous meeting of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly in 1843, when there was a controversy over the degree to which the Church of Scotland was under the control/authority of the Parliament.  A sizable portion of the Church’s ministers walked out to form the Free Church of Scotland; by the late 1920s, the majority of the Free Church reunited with the main Church of Scotland.

Calton Hill

We continued east through New Town and headed up Calton Hill.  Prominent in the Edinburgh landscape, the hill is filled with various monuments and the old Edinburgh Observatory.  The Scottish government headquarters are down the side of the hill.

Sights on Calton Hill
Sights on Calton Hill


Sights on Calton Hill

Sights *from* Calton Hill
Sights *from* Calton Hill


Sights *from* Calton Hill

Scottish Parliament

The next stop on our Friday walk was just down the hill at the new Scottish Parliament building, completed in 2004 to house the newly re-constituted Scottish Parliament.  From the 1707 until 1998, no separate Scottish parliament existed, with the whole of the UK governed centrally from the British Parliament in London (known as “Westminster”).  Now, the UK is in the process of developing into what could be thought of as a more “federal” type system.

Scottish Parliament exterior
Matt and Adam outside Scottish Parliament


Scottish Parliament interior of entry hall

John Knox House

Skipping ahead to Saturday mid-day, another significant site we spent some time at was the John Knox House, located a few blocks down the Royal Mile from St. Giles.  Near the end of his life, while ministering at St. Giles, John Knox lived in this house which was owned by a goldsmith and devout Catholic, James Mosman.  The house, one of the oldest still standing in Edinburgh’s Old City, now serves as a museum to John Knox and the Scottish Reformation.

Arthur’s Seat

Much of the rest of the afternoon on Saturday was taken up with a hike up to Arthur’s Seat, the pinnacle of the mountain overlooking Edinburgh in Holyrood Park.

Part of the panorama from the top of Arthur's Seat

Part of the panorama from the top of Arthur's Seat

Worship at St. Giles’

Sunday morning, we worshipped at St. Giles’, the High Kirk of Scotland on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.  This is the place from which John Knox rallied the Reformed cause back in the day, and serves as the “cathedral,” so to speak, for the Church of Scotland.  (Not actually a cathedral, in the formal sense, since being a cathedral means having a ‘cathedra’… the bishop’s chair… and the Reformed don’t have bishops!)

In yet another one of those “small world” coincidences, the current Minister of St. Giles, the Rev. Callum MacLeod, is actually someone I’ve met before.  Prior to becoming Minister of St. Giles some 4 or 5 years ago, he was on the staff of the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago for over a decade.  I heard him preach and lead worship there on a couple of occasions, and in fact spoke with him after a Christmastide service once to obtain a copy of a prayer he used… a prayer I have used on a few different occasions on Christmas Eve.

Edinburgh Castle

The final “major” site in our Edinburgh time was, of course, Edinburgh Castle, perched up on the hill at the top of the Royal Mile.

Other sites and sights

And finally, here are some other random sites and sights from our weekend in Edinburgh…



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