I have just read ‘Lady Blanche Balfour’, a short piece of reminiscence by the Very Revd. Dr. James Robertson, one of my predecessors at Whittingehame. Lady Blanche was his patron although the widow only assumed that position because her son, AJ Balfour had not come of age.
She had been confirmed in the Church of England. Her brother was Lord Salisbury, Prime Minister before her son. However, when she married James Maitland Balfour and moved to Whittingehame House, she insisted on worshipping at the Presbyterian Whittingehame Kirk.
In writing about this, Robertson says that she wanted to attend the local parish church to ‘express her sense of Christian unity with her immediate neighbours’. At the celebration of the Sacrament, places were kept for her and her family at the long table which extended nearly the whole length of the church.
Despite the differences in the way the Sacrament was celebrated around a table rather than before an altar, she liked it. When Robertson suggested that changes needed done in the kirk, she replied, ‘Whatever you do, don’t give up the long table.’
The minister added, ‘We had to do this, but I am glad, not in her lifetime.’ I think the Anglican was very discerning. There is something to be said for a return to the long table and a recovery of the meal.
When AJ Balfour was laird of Whittingehame, many famous people were entertained at Whittingehame House – churchmen, politicians and literary folk. Balfour loved books so it’s not surprising that Conan Doyle, AC Benson and HG Wells were among his guests.
Some of them attended the kirk with Balfour like Dr. Randall Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Salisbury, Prime Minister. They did not sit in a Laird’s Loft but what Marshall Lang in his history of the parish calls ‘a commodious pew’ at the back of the kirk.
Among the guests at Whittingehame House was Lord Kitchener of Khartoum who had become a Boer War hero. Apparently, he declined to go to Whittingehame Kirk on Sunday because he didn’t like people staring at him!
However, when Kitchener became the Secretary of State for War in 1914, the boot was on the other foot. He was to be seen in that iconic recruitment poster staring out at everyone else with memorable pointed finger above the words, ‘Your Country Needs You’.
On Sunday, I supervised the election of a new minister in a neighbouring charge. Everything went very well as far as the voting was concerned and the nominee was duly elected. However, during the voting, a member of the congregation raised an unusual point.
He argued that it was unnecessary to have a vote at all. The thrust of his argument was that the Nominating Committee’s recommendation was sufficient in itself. Afterall, it was composed of elected representatives of the charge.
Whereas the result of our election certainly confirmed the value of the Nominating Committee’s work, this isn’t always the case especially in ballot elections. Nominating Committees occasionally get it wrong and the election reveals this.
Election of the people has Biblical precedent. When it was lost within the Kirk, it became the subject of a serious disruption in 1843. At the Reformation, the principle was restored albeit for a limited period of time. But it was considered to be so important that the ordination service in Knox’s Liturgy was called the Election!
At Stenton, we were thinking about the call of Moses – the burning bush and holy ground. The Sacrament was celebrated immediately after morning worship. Communicants gathered around the table.
This is holy ground – the breaking of bread, the sharing of wine, the presence of the risen Christ, his body and blood, broken and shared for the life of the world. Here, above all, we hear the voice of God.
Among the communicants was our organist who had nipped down from the organ loft to share the bread and wine. She had arrived in bare feet, the better for an accurate playing of the pedals and for today a celebration of holy ground. Later on, I noticed she was wearing sandals!
We had a delightful late afternoon concert in Prestonkirk yesterday. It featured Castle Brass, a ten piece ensemble made up of four trumpets, four trombones, a horn and a tuba. Percussion was added to some of the numbers.
They began with a very moving ‘Song for Japan’ which was written in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami which killed 18,000 people. Throughout the piece the line of mourning was always evident but on top there was an increasingly strong and hopeful melody.
There were musical jokes like Roberts’ ‘Classic Snacks’. One was ‘Turkish Delight’ a comic take on Mozart’s ‘Rondo alla Turca’. Sadly, there was no ‘Scottish Haggis’ aka James MacMillan. Perhaps next time?
There are two striking features in brass playing. Firstly, it’s vibrant. This was demonstrated in an extraordinary way by their arrangement of the first movement of the Brandenburg Concerto. In this, the strings had been given the sack and the net result was a sparkling piece of playing.
Secondly, it’s uplifting. That’s why brass instruments have been favoured by the military, miners and the Salvation Army. The sound lifts the spirit onto another plane – and we always feel the better of it.
But there is something else about the brass instruments. They make such a powerful sound that we are carried aloft. But when they play with more gentle, soft and sensitive tones, we are equally spellbound because of the contrast.
Brass instruments not only speak to our head and spin it round with its power but they also speak to our hearts with contrasting sensitivity. Either way, we were uplifted and the preacher is left with a challenge for Sunday morning sermon which he was happy to accept in such a joyous exchange!