Donora church to hold 'Kirkin' O' the Tartans' worship service

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For 40 years, the Rev. James Bailey of Calvary United Presbyterian Church in Donora assumed there was no specific Bailey tartan -- the distinctive plaid associated with a Scottish clan.

"Such a banner or flag of a clan could include family, friends and neighbors near and wide," he said.

But in researching and preparing for the unique "Kirkin' O' the Tartans" worship service at 10 a.m. April 28 -- which celebrates the Scottish heritage of the church -- he learned he did, indeed, have an ancestral tartan: two blue and green shades with narrow red and yellow stripes. Accordingly, a Bailey tartan will be visible in the church as he officiates.

"It is just a delightful piece of Scottish history related to the Christian faith,'' he said of the service, which will include a highland dancer, bagpipe solo and readings of Scottish poet Robert Burns.

After the service, pastries will be served in Fellowship Hall.

The Kirkin' O' the Tartans -- or blessing of the families -- is a tribute to the resourceful Scots who, during the 1747-82 Act of Proscription by the Parliament of Great Britain, circumvented a ban on Highland garb by concealing it under their clothing when attending a kirk, or church.

A secret blessing by the minister signaled Scots to place their hands over their hidden material to recommit to God and their Scottish heritage, while also praying for the strength to endure the affront to their customs.

The Kirkin' service is a Scottish-American tradition believed to have originated in 1941 with Scots-American pastor Peter Marshall, who later served as chaplain of the U.S. Senate.

The service will begin with a processional "March to the Kirk" into the church at 800 Thompson Ave., which, planners hope, will include all 32 church members of Scottish descent from 17 clans.

The march will be led by bagpiper Dave Olson, a member of the popular Macdonald Pipe Band of Pittsburgh. The Rostraver man learned to play pipes more than 50 years ago in a bagpipe band, which was based in Donora.

"Donora used to be a high Scottish population until the mills closed and people died or moved away," he said. "The church is trying to bring back the Scottish tradition."

Calvary United Presbyterian Church was founded in 1960 in a merger of First United Presbyterian Church, First Presbyterian Church and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, all of which were founded primarily by Scots more than a century ago.

The idea for the first-time event at Calvary United was that of Mary Janet Henry, the church's clerk of session, whose late mother, Nettie Stacey, was born in Whitburn, Scotland.

The Charleroi woman will participate in the march wearing a kilt and sash and carrying a St. Andrew's Cross, which is the national flag of Scotland. Her brother Charles Stacey of Donora will carry the Lion Rampant, which is the Scottish Royal Banner of Arms.

"I'm so full of Scottish pride right now I'm about to burst," she said. "This is helping the church bring back our Scottish pride and will help a lot of people think about their ancestry," she said.

Details: 724-379-8285, or visit: For more on the pipe band visit

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Margaret Smykla, freelance writer:


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