Transatlantic church service for Scots and Canadians

Presbyterian church congregations more than 3,000 miles apart are holding a special joint online service to celebrate their shared heritage.

Killearnan and Knockbain, Contin and Strathpeffer parish churches in the Highlands have teamed up with St Andrew's Church in Ottawa, Canada for the first time to create a lively video to mark Trinity Sunday.

Rev James Bissett Rev Susan Cord
Husband and wife team - Rev James Bissett and Rev Susan Cord

It will feature music, prayers, readings and a reflection by Rev Susan Cord, her husband Rev James Bissett and Rev Dr Karen Dimock, who leads the church in Ontario which was originally part of the Church of Scotland.

The original building dates back to 1828 when Scottish stonemason Thomas McKay, who was born in Perth, was working on the contract to build the locks joining the Rideau Canal to the Rideau River.

Scottish heritage

During that year there was a lull in construction, and McKay, not wishing to lose his skilled workmen, put them to work on the original St Andrew's Church.

More than five million Canadians claim Scottish heritage with their ancestors helping to build communities in eastern Ontario such as Perth which lies on the banks of the Tay River.

Celebrated railway engineer, Sir Sandford Fleming, who was born in Kirkcaldy in Fife and invented worldwide standard time zones, was once an elder at the Ottawa church.

Another Scottish connection is Lord Tweedsmuir, also known as John Buchan, who was born in Perth and served as Governor General of Canada.

He too made his church home at St. Andrew’s.

St Andrew's Church Ottawa
Thomas McKay, a stonemason from Perth in Scotland, oversaw the construction of the original St Andrew's Church building in 1828.

The Highland ministers connected with the Canadian congregation after a chance encounter with one of its elders, Elizabeth Phillipson, on Twitter.

Ms Cord, who leads Killearnan and Knockbain Parish Church, said: “I am very pleased that James and I have made this connection with the church in Ottawa and we are both looking forward to the Trinity Sunday service.

“The Coronavirus pandemic is an international problem and following discussions with Karen, we realised we have much more in common than divides us.

“I am looking forward to sharing different perspectives from one body of Christ and my hope is people will see a bigger picture of the Christian witness.”

Ms Cord, who was raised in Kirkcaldy, said the lockdown has illustrated the importance of human relationships.

“People are more connected to each other than they realise,” she said.

“We were made this way in our humanity by God and that to me is the nub of why this is really exciting.”

Mr Bissett, who looks after the parishes of Contin and Strathpeffer, has filmed a greeting for the St Andrew’s congregation and Dr Dimock and Mrs Phillipson have done likewise for the Kirk congregations.

The Scottish and Canadian churches have created their own playlists and Mrs Phillipson will deliver a Psalm reading for the video which will be available to watch on Killearnan and Knockbain Parish Church’s YouTube channel.

The minister’s discussion will focus on Psalm 8, the Great Commission - the instruction of the resurrected Jesus Christ to His disciples to spread the Gospel to all the nations of the world – and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Mr Bissett, who edited the video, said: “During lockdown we have been able to use technology to unite together in Christian witness across the world.

“It is a dark and an uncertain time that we are living in but it is a positive message to be able to come together with our brothers and sisters in Christ across the world.”

Rev Dr Karen Dimock
Rev Dr Karen Dimock was born in Scotland.

Dr Dimock, whose mother’s family came from Beauly, said the shared online service is an example of a God who is “always doing new things”.

“Three months ago we never would have imagined being able to do this,” added the minister who was born in Ayrshire but moved to Canada via England and Jamaica when she was three.

“During the COVID-19 crisis our congregation, like so many, has been pushed to find new ways to stay in touch, to continue to care for each other and to reach out in Christ’s name.

“The advent of online worship in particular has offered new opportunities including this exciting opportunity to share a service together, as brothers and sisters in Jesus, across the ocean.”