“Life is full of surprises.”
– John Major
Six years ago, my church took part in a “pulpit exchange” with two churches in Scotland. Essentially, this involved my wife and I spending five weeks in the Scottish Highlands around Inverness where I served Cawdor and Croy, two Church of Scotland congregations while the minister of those churches came to Mississippi where she was temporary pastor at New Hope.
Realizing our parishioners would have enough to adjust to with an unfamiliar face in the pulpit, we agreed that we would not impose our own way of worshiping on the churches we were visiting. This meant that she would follow an order of service common in the Presbyterian Church USA while I would abide by the way of worshiping followed in the Church of Scotland.
Because our denominations are very similar in theology and organization, one might assume the worship services in each would be the same. That, however, is not the case. While there is a basic order common to both, the ingredients vary. Additionally, there is a good bit more music in the Scottish service, so that while American churches might have three congregational hymns, as many as five or six can be found in a Scottish church.
In the first four weeks I was preaching and leading worship in those two Highland congregations, I became comfortable with the flow of the service and really enjoyed the change of pace. During the last week of our being there, however, members in both churches requested that I put together an American-style service so they would get a sense of how we American Presbyterians worship. This I readily agreed to do and crafted a service that would have been identical to one followed at New Hope.
Because my time in Scotland was during the “holiday” season when many families were on vacation, there were some members who missed several of the Sundays I was there. Consequently, I did not think much about it when on the last Sunday during the “American service,” I saw a couple I did not recognize. I just assumed they were returning from “holiday.”
As I came to find out after the service, however, not only were they not members, they were not even Scots. They were Presbyterians from North Carolina who were visiting Inverness. Being in the habit of attending church, they had started driving around the area looking for a Sunday service they could attend that would allow them to experience a Church of Scotland-style of worship. It just so happened they drove by the Croy church as we were beginning, so they stopped and came in expecting to see a Scottish pastor in the pulpit. Imagine their surprise when they found themselves in a Presbyterian service led by an American minister with a Southern accent.