in the best highland tradition

Not that it’s actually part of the sacrament or anything, but it has been the custom in some sections of Scottish presbyterianism to hold several days’ worth of preparatory services ahead of dispensing the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in any particular congregation.

The services are intended to be helpful to people as they prepare for taking part in the sacrament, and generally they follow a series of fairly well defined themes for each day. On Thursday it is customary that people devote themselves to confession and prayer. On Friday the day is meant to be spent in self-examination. Saturday is for more direct preparation for the ordinance itself, concentrating on the meaning of the sacrament and the person and work of Christ it commemorates. On the Lord’s day the sacrament is administered in the morning service, and then there is a thanksgiving service on Monday.

The church services are of course only meant to help people in their personal preparation, and of course it is not necessary to attend them in order to take part in the sacrament, and of course because of the logistics they really work best in the context of relatively infrequent celebrations of the sacrament. Still the five-day setup (‘the communion season’) can be seen as a useful and beneficial arrangement, allowing the whole congregation to prepare together under the preaching of the Word and giving a structured way of carrying out a duty, ie of preparation, which might otherwise be easily neglected or only done hastily or patchily.

Anyway, that’s just a heads-up to let you know I’ll be otherwise occupied for the next few days and unlikely to be around here much.

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12 thoughts on “in the best highland tradition

  1. We still use tokens, in I think all the congregations in my denomination :) Not sure how it works in other churches though, it may well have died out apart from us although i’d imagine it might persist in the north (??)

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  2. Hi Cath, I don’t know if it’s correct to say that the communion season is a highland tradition. The communion season probably started in the lowlands and not the highlands. There is a record of a communion season in 1677, during the days of the Covenanters, when the number of communicants which had gathered in the Merse in Berwickshire was so great that there had to be several sittings and five ministers were present.
    Sadly, it is only a small number of churches which still maintian the traditional communion season and the majority of them are in the highlands.
    Tokens are still used in most Free church continuing congregations not sure about the Majority body, though.

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  3. At least some FC congregations use tokens – maybe some APC too, I don’t know. We didn’t have them in Lochcarron so the only time I encountered them personally was in the FC there after the APC started meeting together with them.

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  4. You’re right Mr Fraser, that’s a misleading title. In the contemporary situation I suppose the ‘communion season’ is most associated with the highlands but of course it spread to there rather than originating there.

    Thanks Peter. So it seems that all the presbyterian denominations use tokens to some extent although maybe it’s only the FPs that use them across the board.

    The other peculiarity about traditional communions is the Question Meeting i suppose. Does anyone know how widespread that is? There’s at least one of our congregations that has never had question meetings but apart from that they’re pretty universal.

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  5. I’m not sure that many of the FCC congregations have a traditional Question Meeting, although I have been to a meeting in Shettleston which had some of the aspects of a Question Meeting with the male members giving some remarks on a portion of scripture.
    I know that the Edinburgh Free Church (Continuing) doesn’t have one and this probably applies to the congregations in the majority body of the Free church also.
    I think that the Free Presbyterian Church has more services during the communion season than the other churches, sometimes having two services a day and there are also prayer meetings.

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  6. Questions from a Papist who used to be one of your softie Kirk brethren:

    How do people qualify for a token?

    Also (I suspect I’m missing something here) – confession _before_ the day of self-examination? Why?

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  7. Hello Boeciana, to receive admission to the Lord’s supper, for the first time, the person who desires to be at the table must appear before the members of the Kirk Session and satisfy them that they are a christian and worthy to receive the sacrament.
    Tokens are issued to all communicant members on the Saturday before the Lord’s supper, they serve the purpose of allowing the kirk session to be able to know who is entitled to sit at the table.
    Only those who have professed that Jesus Christ is their Saviour may receive the sacrament.

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  8. Yes, the token is just literally a token that you’re a “member in full communion” with the church – you only go to speak to the Kirk Session once, ie the first time you make an open profession of your conversion/faith in Christ (it’s the profession that qualifies you for membership of the church, hence for a token), but the tokens get given out every time in advance of the actual administration of the sacrament to everyone who intends to participate. I suppose it’s one manifestation of how seriously Kirk Sessions have traditionally taken their responsibility to maintain proper standards of discipline, ie ensure that communicants have an uncontradicted profession of faith and aren’t ‘ignorant or scandalous’ in their lives.

    Not sure about the relative order of confession and self-examination. I think confession is the more general duty while self-examination is more specifically oriented towards the sacrament itself (‘Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat,’ etc). It’s examination as to whether you have ‘marks of grace’ ie hopefully to ascertain that you are a saved sinner, and hence qualified to sit at the Lord’s Table, although confessedly a sinner still. (Can anyone else add anything?)

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