Tag Archives: Kirriemuir

It’s festival season for the Pomervilles

In the last few days of our exchange, we’ve been soaking up Highland Games, community gatherings, and Edinburgh during the festivals that dominate the town in August.  

 Our former hometown of Belliare, Michigan had the Rubber Ducky Festival. It embodied all that we love about local gatherings – the whole town came out for food, craft shows, and whatever theme that was more or less related to the town. In Bellaire, they dumped hundreds of rubber duckies in the river that runs through downtown. Everyone follows a parade that ends with a big front-loader full of the ducks as we cheer on the ridiculousness that is a rubber ducky festival. We used to LOVE it. It’s summer, everyone is smiling, neighbors come out of the woodwork and happy tourists descend about the town to celebrate a sunny day in Northern Michigan.

Scotland has plenty of summertime festivals. We had to strategically plan our weekend celebrations. Do we go to Ale and Rugby fest or the animal show? What festivals are going to have the best food? How far can we realistically drive to attend? What places will keep our kids entertained, and thus, keep the parents in a good mood?

We settled on the following:

Saturday: The Arbroath Seafest in the morning and the Johnshaven Fishfest in the afternoon

Sunday: The Cortachy Highland Games after church

Monday: The Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Festival during the day, maybe the International Book Festival in the afternoon, the Royal Military Tattoo at night
Awesome weekend.
Here’s the quick reviews, plus some pictures, of each fest:
Arbroath Seafest – We weren’t quite sure what to expect from this one. All we knew is that it would focus on the delightful local treat that is the “Arbroath Smokie.”  

 We learned that you can only call it a smokie if it is actually made within the small town of Arbroath. It is the signature dish of this seaside town and it simple in its deliciousness. The smokie is a local haddock that has been deheaded and gutted before being split in half and smoked over a roaring fire. 

  The taste and texture of these fish were unlike any other smoked fish I’ve enjoyed – salmon, whitefish, and trout included. It had an almost shellfishy texture with a strong smoke/peat flavor, almost like an Islay whisky. Rachell and the kids? Not as big of fans as I was. The rest of the festival included craft booths, kids’ cooking tent, lots of seafood for sale, a boat tour of a turn of the century herring fishing sailboat, and of course, rides and games.  


 Our big claim to fame was making it on the Arbroath Seafest facebook page as an example of a local family having fun at Seafest. Ha! Arbroath Seafest Pomerville Pic

Johnshaven Fishfest – You’re probably wondering what the difference is between a seafest and fishfest, right? We weren’t sure about it either and didn’t have the highest hopes for this one because the town of Johnshaven is TINY. It’s a long drive down a steep hill to a fishing hamlet between Stonehaven and Montrose on the NE coast of Scotland. 

  Without any intended insult to Arbroath, we enjoyed the Fishfest a ton more than Seafest. The whole town seemed to turn up and it was one giant street festival along the harbor. The star of this festival had to be the langoustines, what looked to be a cross between a lobster and a shrimp. The flavor was exquisite. I could eat those all day long…and I did!  


 Denali was way into these as well. We were amazed by the freshness of them. I’d take langoustines over lobster or crab every time. The other centerpiece of the Fishfest was a homemade raft race. The three entries were a team of Minions, a covered wagon, and an all male cast of Frozen. Hilarious. 



  We sat on the harbor edge and cheered on the ridiculously costumed paddlers while chomping down on langoustines, fried fish, and candy. Well done, Johnshaven! Also? We found the funniest sentence on any historical marker in all of Scotland. See if you can pick it out… 

 Cortachy Highland Games – Cortachy is one of the small villages here in the Glens and Kirrieumuir Old Parish. It is a full Highland Games with dancers, runners, a dog show, and heavy game competitions. It was a great way to spend an afternoon outside. Denali was all set to compete in the Highland dancing when she got a bit of cold feet and backed out. No worries, though. She and her brother still competed in a number of races.  



 Denali even took second in the egg and spoon race! She won 30p (about 45 cents) for her finish.  

 We watched the big men toss the caber, saw the dog race, and took in the local sights and sounds. It was a delightful day in the country underneath Cortachy Castle. 

Edinburgh – This was the big one. You see, August is festival-time in the capital – The Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Festival (the largest in the world), The International Festival, The International Book Festival, and the Royal Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle. Wow.  


 There are no words adequate enough to describe the feeling of the city during the festival, as they call it. People from all over the world were EVERYWHERE. Each corner had a different street performer and people were passing out invitations and ads for their shows every direction you turned. We could only do so much and opted to attend to shows from the comedy festival during the day before doing the Tattoo at 9 pm. In between our shows we had incredible food and drinks, toured the castle and amused ourselves with the street performers doing magic, music, acrobatics, and comedy. The shows were both for children. “Flight” was an acrobatic interpretation of “The Little Prince.” 


  It was written and performed by Curbside Acrobatics from California State University, Long Beach. It was…um…well…ok? Not the greatest show but it did provide us an experience of the Fringe. The kids were mildly entertained but I think the playwright and performers missed the mark on this one. The second show as “Comedy Club 4 Kids,” and it was just that – a comedy club for children. The three comedians were family friendly and geared their performances toward the younger generation in the crowd. We really enjoyed this one, Bryce especially.  He went up at the end for a joke competition! 

By the way, Bryce is the best person to bring to any performance of anything. He is constantly laughing, gasping, and saying, “How did they do that? That was amazing!” And he is totally genuine in his love of the shows. He was especially into our final show of the night…

The Tattoo was extraordinary.  

 I have seen more shows than I care to admit, having followed Phish around, growing up in Interlochen, and spending an inordinate amount of time and money watching live music and theater. With all of that background, I can firmly say the Tattoo was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen. 

 It was stunning. The performers, the background, the experience itself was beyond our expectations and we all said it was one of the most memorable things we have done on our trip. Wow. Just, wow. I would recommend the Tattoo to everyone. We had to book our tickets five months ago but it was worth it. 

After all of this, we drove home from Edinburgh last night at 1:00 in the morning before falling fast asleep in our beds in Kirriemuir. It has been an action packed three days and we are exhausted. Happy, but exhausted.

Way to go, Scotland. You continue to impress. Only a week before we head home and we have enjoyed every moment of our trip. This has been truly outstanding.


An Anecdotal View of the Parish System

The Kirk of Scotland practices the “Parish” model of ministry for this lovely county. While I’m sure I am over simplifying this complex system, I’ll take a stab at explaining what I have observed before offering my questions on how this concept may or may not work in my home context of East Lansing, MI, USA. 

 Scotland, the whole country, is divided into parishes, or regional/neighborhood parts, that are served by the whole Kirk.  Each person in Scotland belongs to a particular parish and is served by the minister assigned/called to parish. As a result, the whole country is part of the Kirk and the spiritual and chaplaincy needs are, ideally, met by the pastor in each parish.  

 So whether you ever attend worship or church activities, you are still considered a part of the local kirk and have a minister who is there to marry, bury, baptize, and support you and your loved ones. Yes, there are a few other denominations represented in each parish. And, of course, just because you are considered part of the parish does not mean you will ever call on our contact the kirk or minister. In fact, you may not only be a non-Christian, but you may be vehemently opposed to the church…yet you are still a part of the parish and are prayed for and served by the local minister.

I’ve asked this question of myself and fellow Peoples Church clergy without obvious answers – To whom are WE called to serve? 

 Case in point – When I go to Sparrow Hospital, am I there to visit our church members or all people? Is there a priority ranking between Peoples Church people and non-Peoples people?  Are we ministers to our community or the neighborhood/parish? Is our parish only those who self-identify as “members” of The Peoples Church?

I realize the parish model is not unique and has been practiced by a number of churches/denominations in the States and internationally. However, in my tiny Reformed/Presbyterian worldview, this is a relatively new concept. 

To use the shepherd image, I have been trained to watch over one particular flock to which I have been assigned. When I see one of “my” sheep in trouble, it is my call to step in and assist. I am not called to “all” sheep and would not be readily expected to help any and all sheep in whatever field that might be in need of a shepherding hand. 

 That is not the case here in the Church of Scotland.

I am AMAZED by the amount of weddings and funerals officiated by my Church of Scotland colleagues for what I observe as smaller congregations on Sunday morning. What I failed to recognize was the size of the whole parish. They are ministering to EVERYONE. In addition to their ecclesial responsibilities in the kirk, they are called to be chaplains in the community, teach religious education in the gov’t schools, and work with and through middle governing bodies as representatives of the church and state. In short, they are stretched awfully thin out here and I am truly impressed by their ability to help, serve, love, and support ALL their neighbors, not just those who attend the parish kirk on Sunday mornings.

Is this model better than the one we live within in the US? 

 I don’t have a clear answer to this one. I am quite attracted to the missional/evangelical notion that all people are a part of God’s family and are equally deserving and in need of pastoral care, regardless of whether or not they tithe, worship regularly, or participate in the active fellowship of a congregation.

But what does that say about the responsiblities of a pastor in a particular place and time, called to be the minister of a church/parish/congregation?

My call as the senior pastor at The Peoples Church is relatively clear cut. My job description includes preaching, head of staff responsibilties, and the administration of the sacraments. Of course, there is that wonderful line about “other duties” that would take a novel to fill with all of the “jobs” of a minister. Still, my call is very distinctly articulated in my job description as the senior minister of The Peoples Church, not East Lansing or the Lansing area.

This pulpit swap has left me a bit anxious about the following questions:

1.) Do I treat members of The Peoples Church differently from non-members? Should I?

2.) Does The Peoples Church exist for our community, the community outside our walls, and/or  God?

3.) To whom am I most accountable and why?

Only a couple more weeks overseas before returning home to address these questions within the faith community that I know and love. Until then, I hope to continue learning with and through the faithful people here in the West Angus Area Ministries of The Kirk of Scotland. It is such a privilege and joy to be here.

Touring vs. Visiting

When I accepted the invitation for this pulpit swap with the Kirriemuir Old Parish, our family made the decision to spend our time in Scotland in a different way from out previous trips. The last two times we crammed as many side trips as we possibly could to as many places as we could check off from our to do list. We traveled to Skye, the Shetlands, Loch Lomond, Loch Ness and every place in betwen. “This time around, we’re going to stay close to home, not venture too far from Kirriemuir, and drive somewhere everyday” we told ourselves.

Well, we stayed close-ish to Kirrie but we didn’t quite live up our decision to not travel as much.

Since arriving in Scotland, we have visited Edinburgh, Brechin, St. Andrews, GlenIsla, GlenClova, GlenProsen, Aberfeldy, Pitlochry, Montrose, Stonehaven, Stirling, Perth, Aberdeen, Ellon, Arbroath, Inverness, Fort George, and just about every place in between.

We’re exhausted but so thankful for this opportunity. Instead of traveling really far away from Kirriemuir, we’ve made a big circle around Kirrie and traveled in every direction until we had seen and expereinced just about every place and great site within an hour and a half radius.

So today, we’re resting. We slept in late, had a great breakfast in town, and are now enjoying a quiet morning in the manse. Life is very, very good. 

My church experience here in the Kirk of Scotland continues to be eye-opening. My next post will focus on the parish system. The idea of a minister for every person in Scotland is fascinating and so different from our member-based approach. Not sure which is better or worse yet…just recognizing the differences.

This weekend will be full of festivals. We’re heading to the Arbroath Seafest on Saturday and after church Sunday we are all participating in the Cortachy Highland Games. Denali bought new Highland Dance shoes and kilt hose to where so she can compete in Highland Dance. All of us will be racing in the “Overseas Visitors Competition.” I’m hoping it’s just the four of us…then I think I’ll have a chance.

Here’s an update on the last few days:

Tuesday – Church activities most of the day and a drive up GlenClova in the evening. 

 Wednesday – Triumphant return to University of Aberdeen (what, no parade for us?), the Brewdog brewery in Ellon, Tolquhon Castle (our FAVORITE caslet so far) and hanging out with my German brother Robert in Stonehaven. 

 Thursday – Incredible tour of the Blackwatch Museum and Castle with Ronnie Proctor. What an amazing man! 40 years in the BlackWatch, starting at age 15! Thank you for the wonderful tour, Ronnie! 


Bryce in Scotland

I’ll give equal airtime to our daughter, as well, but I’ve got to make a couple of notes about traveling with Bryce in the north. 

He’s hilarious.

Bryce is not at all as shy as Denali. He makes friends with kids, dogs, and the elderly with equal ease and grace. Everywhere we’ve traveled, Bryce as found himself “at ease.” 

A couple of quick Bryce stories and pics. First, haggis:

 He loves the stuff and we haven’t had the courage to tell him that it’s made of sheep “pluck” – the heart, lungs, and liver all cooked inside of a sheep’s stomach.

Bryce loves the stuff.

We were in a fantastic restaurant (GlenIsla Hotel) up in the Glens and he again made friends for himself with the ladies behind the bar. A glimpse at our son’s charming future? I digress…

After he mentioned he’d never had haggis, the kitchen staff made a bowl of it for us gratis and brought it out. We all politely tasted and marginally enjoyed it. Bryce, however, loved it and pulled the big bowl in front of himself to eat.

Well done.  

 2.) Playgrounds and playparks

A lot of our trip as revolved around us finding appropriate playgrounds to run off some steam. Thankfully, Kirriemuir is home to one of the greatest playparks in the UK. As the childhood home, as well as the final resting place, for acclaimed playwright and author J.M.Barrie (of Peter Pan fame), lots of things in town have a Neverland, Lost Boys, or Pan theme. This included the incredible Peter Pan play park on top of the hill. 

Lots of kids congregate there and our children are now exception. Everyday they beg us to go play up at the park. A couple of days back, they were playing up there and met a rather international group of children. Including our two Americans, there were also a few Indian, English, and Scottish children all on holiday. Bryce walked right up to them and said, “Hey, I’m Bryce. Can I play too?”

Sure, they said. Where are you from (obviously not recognizing his accent)?

“I’m from Michigan.”

Where’s that?


Whatever, the other little boy said.

Bryce came over to me, “Daddy, I don’t think those boys are very smart. They don’t even know where Michigan is!”

Latter, as the boys played tag together, Bryce kept trying to tell them they were doing it wrong.

“Daddy, they keep calling it ‘tig’ but it’s really TAG. Why do they call it ‘tig?'”

Bryce, they just have an accent just like we have an accent.

“Weird…,” Bryce muttered to himself as he ran back to play ‘tig.’

3.) Looking old




 He sits like an old man at the table. Hard to put that into words witout pictures. He just looks so comfortable withhimself.

Way to go, Bryce.

Three Sermons, A Foreign Staff Meeting, and Dreadful Predictions

A gentleman at yesterday’s Kirk team meeting said one news outlet recently made this bold statement: The last parish in the Kirk of Scotland will close it’s doors in 2034.


Obviously, this type of doom-and-gloom prophecy is meant to be jolting and distressing. Just as obvious is the lack of good statistical analysis used to extrapolate these results.  

 This declaration is based off the current number of church closures and membership decline felt in the Church of Scotland over the past number of years. Assuming those numbers continue at the same rate, one could argue that the church will cease to exist in a mere twenty years.

I’ve heard nearly identical predictions about the Presbyerian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, and a host of other smaller and larger mainline denominations in the States that are going through a similar struggle with numbers.

There is no denying the numerical depression. However, based solely on anecdotal evidence, there are plenty of faithful men, women and children who will no doubt continue the good work of the church regardless of what the church resembles in the future.

This much is assuredly true – the church will not look the same twenty years from now.

  I’d make that statement for any and all denominational expressions of the Church of Jesus Christ throughout the world – fundamentalists, Catholics, Baptists, and Presbyterians alike.

At 35, the Presbyterian Church today looks vastly different than it did in my teen years before cell phones, rapid information sharing, social media, and the “shrinking” of our global community. The pre-digital church was something very different from our ever evolving digital landscape that the Kirk in all times and places struggles to make sense of. When I am 55, I’m not sure what the congregations I have served will resemble, nor am I sure what type of church I might encounter that proclaims the gospel. But it will be there, of that I’m am sure.

  I preached three times on Sunday in Kirriemuir and Memus, here in West Angus, Scotland. My pulpit swap counter-part, Rev. Malcolm Rooney, is part of West Angus Area Ministries, a team ministry approach where a number of pastors serve as ministers for a variety of churches in one given area. The ministers serve the pastoral needs of the various congregations, while sharing the Sunday morning leadership roles, rotating between parishes. Because there are more churches than pastors, each clergy person might be expected to drive between parishes on a Sunday morning in order to preach at all the locations.*

*(as an aside, I also learned about a sever minister shortage in teh Church of Scotland. In 2014, there were only 13 divinity students preparing to be ministers in the CoS and this year there are 19. Friends in the PC(USA), if you are looking for a call, there are LOTS of opportunities for American pastors to serve here in the Kirk)

  My rotation this past Sunday included the 9:00 service in Kirriemuir Old Parish, then drive ten minutes to make the 10:00 service in Memus before hopping back in the car and driving to Kirriemuir again for the “big” service in the Old Parish at 11:15. It was a whirlwind. I’ll never complain about our bakc to back services at The Peoples Church. At least in Michigan, I stay in the same building!

And here is the most stunning observation from my weekend that flies in the face of the predictions about the demise of the Church of Scotland – the congregations were so absolutely connected to one another. There was a genuine sense of fellowship and community. 

  That is where the church will survive and eventually thrive.

Rather than speaking to the fears of closing church doors, I believe an emphasis should be placed on the existing faithful who come week after  week to express their faith in Jesus Christ while supporting and loving their neighbors as themselves. That is an attractive church. That is an evangelical church.

I am so filled with hope for the Church of Scotland…but I believe they need to refocus their efforts on building up the faithful who are there, rather than bemoaning the missing numbers who are not present. Instead of reporting about the fifty who have left, celebrate teh fifty who are there. I would gladly be a part of those congregations and I believe many others in my cynical, authenticity-seeking generation would as well.  

On Tuesday morning, I attending two “team meetings,” staff meetings really, for the parishes. The volunteers there were charming, loving, kind, grace-filled, and full of pride in all the right ways. I was honored to be a part of their discussions and I truly look forward to more of these conversations during my time in Scotland. I pray for the Church of Scotland and I give thanks for their good work. A time of contraction is difficult, but not impossible. Let this be a time of rebirth.

Friends at The Peoples Church, please join me in praying for the Christians here in Scotland, that they would be confident in knowing that they are not alone in their faith. We break bread with them each time we share communion. Remember them this week and give thanks.

Wicked, Harry Potter, York, and Street Performers

It’s been an action-packed last few days. First and foremost, we have to give a huge thank you to Malcolm and Christine Rooney for allowing us to use their beautiful home while they are in East Lansing for this pulpit swap.

Originally, the swap had us staying in the manse in Kirrie (where we are) and the Rooneys staying in our home in Haslett. One housefire later and that plan was scrapped. The good news? We have wonderful folks at The Peoples Church and John and Mary Anne Larzelere graciously volunteered their home for Malc and Chris to stay in while they visit EL. Incredible!

We decided to treat the kids to a real West End theater experience for our last night in London. “Wicked” was the best option and they absolutely loved it. We all dressed up and headed out for a “fancy” night on the town. They’ve been listening to the soundtrack ever since. I credit Rachell for picking that one. 

 Our train to York the next morning left from King’s Cross station. It took Denali less than a second to connect the dots and realize, “That’s where Harry Potter went to get to Hogwarts! Can we go to platform 9 & 3/4?”

Sure enough, there is a platform 9 and three quarters that is happy to sell you all the Harry Potter merchandise you could possibly want. Two overpriced wands later, we were set to head to York. 

 York demands it’s own post. What an absolutely stunning town. I really wish we had more than a day there. I’ll leave it at that with a few pictures. Just wonderful. 

 From York, we made our way to Edinburgh to pick up our rental car. When we arrived, the agent mentioned a “slight” problem with our rental…it was not there. We ended up waiting about 4 hours in Edinburgh for our now upgraded rental (thank you for making it right, Europcar). What a great city to be stuck in for a few extra hours. The kids were fascinated by the street performers. Rachell was less amused.   

 From there, we drove to our main destination and arrived at Kirriemuir late in the evening on Friday. We visited the stunning Arbroath Abbey on Saturday and saw where the Scottish Declaration of Independence (Arbroarth, really) was written. Great visit and all in all, a wondeful day. 

 Next post will be about our Sunday adventure in Kirriemuir. I preached 3 times that morning…at least one was good. Thanks for reading and supporting us!