Gaelic-speaking congregations in the Church of Scotland

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A few Church of Scotland congregations, mainly in the Western Isles, have regular Sunday services in Gaelic. There are Gaelic-speaking congregations of other denominations too, mainly in the Western Isles; these include the Roman Catholic Church, the Free Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland (continuing), the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland and the Associated Presbyterian Churches.

The list below is of Church of Scotland charges where it is desirable that the minister should be able to speak Gaelic. A few congregations are, however, deemed to be ‘Gaelic essential’; the number of congregations deemed ‘Gaelic desirable’ or ‘Gaelic essential’ has declined in recent decades. The Gaelic for ‘Church of Scotland’ is Eaglais na h-Alba.

There is a shortage of ministers able to speak Gaelic. Continuity of Gaelic worship in Edinburgh has been maintained since 1704, it began when a provision was made by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for services for Gaelic-speaking soldiers stationed at Edinburgh Castle. Today, this Gaelic tradition continues at the 12.30 Gaelic-language service at Greyfriars Kirk. Glasgow still has a weekly Gaelic service at St Columba's Church, Glasgow on St Vincent Street at 10am.

Presbytery of Argyll

  • Gigha and Cara
  • Jura
  • Kilchoman linked with Portnahaven
  • Kildalton and Oa
  • Kilmore
  • Tiree
  • Tobermory (Isle of Mull)

Presbytery of Edinburgh

Presbytery of Glasgow

Presbytery of Inverness

  • Dalneigh and Bona

Presbytery of Lewis

  • Barvas
  • Carloway
  • Cross Ness (Gaelic essential)
  • Kinloch (Gaelic essential)
  • Knock (Gaelic essential)
  • Lochs-Crossbost
  • Lochs-in-Bernera
  • Stornoway: High
  • Stornoway: St Columba’s
  • Uig (Gaelic essential)

Presbytery of Lochcarron-Skye

  • Applecross, Lochcarron and Torridon
  • Bracadale and Duirinish
  • Kilmuir and Stenscholl
  • Portree
  • Snizort
  • Strath and Sleat

Presbytery of Ross

  • Lochbroom and Ullapool

Presbytery of Uist

  • Barra
  • Benbecula
  • Berneray and Lochmaddy (North Uist)
  • Carinish (North Uist)
  • Kilmuir and Paible (North Uist) (Gaelic essential)
  • Manish-Scarista (Harris)
  • South Uist
  • Tarbert (Harris) (Gaelic essential)

Source: Church of Scotland Yearbook (2005-06 edition), St Andrew Press, Edinburgh

Review in 2008[edit]

In 2007, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland instructed the Mission & Discipleship Council and the Ministries Council to investigate the present standing of Gaelic in the Church of Scotland and to report to the 2008 General Assembly on the strategic development of the use of the language in the church.

The report identifies the current dichotomy between the position in Gaelic in the Kirk and in Scottish society - in the Kirk, the decline in attendances at Gaelic services and a shortage of ministers with confidence to preach in Gaelic were a matter of some regret among many Gaelic speaking ministers.

The report notes that many former Gaelic-speaking congregations had moved directly from traditional Gaelic services to English only and had not sought to embrace even an element of Gaelic worship. Nevertheless, in Scottish society as a whole, there is a considerable and growing, interest in Gaelic, illustrated by the preparation of A National Plan for Gaelic in response to a Scottish Government initiative; the establishing of Bord na Gàidhlig; the development of Gaelic education; increase in the number of adults learning the language and the development of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in Skye. Two key recommendations are made:

  • The maintenance and development of the use of Gaelic in areas in which Gaelic is still regularly in use.
  • The development of Gaelic throughout the whole Church of Scotland.

In the latter area, the Group recognised that, throughout Scotland, there are individuals who have knowledge of Gaelic and who would welcome the provision of some element of Gaelic from time to time in worship, perhaps through a Gaelic blessing or Benediction.

The Mission and Discipleship Council is offering proposals that include encouragement of worship resources on the Church of Scotland website; the compilation of a short collection of Gaelic blessings/prayers/short scripture passages for use mainly within English services; provision of some Biblical and storytelling resources for Gaelic Medium Education and also for use in Sunday Schools; encouragement of a wider understanding of the role of Highland Christianity in the world church; the Council will also mention the expected report on the designation of Gaelic Speaking Charges and on the support of Gaelic ministry which the Ministries Council is expected to produce.

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