Church of Scotland

The Occom Circle

Church of Scotland


The modern Church of Scotland (also called the Kirk, a Scots term) is Protestant and presbyterian in structure. It began in about 400 AD when St. Ninian established the first Christian mission to Scotland. In the 6th century, St. Columba crossed over from Ireland to establish a community of monks who spread the Gospel throughout Scotland and northern England. Because the Scottish Church adopted Roman practices, the papacy allowed it to be independent of the English Church. The Reformation in Scotland flowered in the 1560s under the zealous leadership of John Knox, a student of John Calvin. The reformed church developed a presbyterian governing structure, with a system of courts (today, the General Assembly, presbytery, and kirk session), an emphasis on Scripture, and a strong tradition of preaching. But after James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603, his descendants tried to control the Kirk, which led to many years of violent struggle. When Protestants William and Mary succeeded to the throne in 1688, the Kirk became the national Church of Scotland in 1690. In the next decades, the Kirk became active in missionizing to the Scottish Highlands, whose isolated populations remained Episcopalian and retained their own Scots Gaelic language and clan structure of local governance. In 1709, a Royal Charter established the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge (SSPCK), which created schools to spread the Kirk's program of education ("civilization"), English language imposition, and religious conversion. In 1730, the SSPCK brought the Kirk's agenda overseas, initiating a Board of Correspondents in Boston to spread its program to the Native peoples of North America and compete with the Anglican missionary societies operating in the colonies. The SSPCK and its various American chapters would play a major role in the lives of both Samson Occom and Eleazar Wheelock. During 1750-1850, controversies raged over the State's intervention in the appointment of ministers to the Kirk and in 1843, a major split occurred in which about a third of the Kirk separated into what is called the Free Kirk. Some of these divisions have healed and today the Church of Scotland is the largest Protestant church in the country. Women were made eligible for ordination in 1968.


"Church of Scotland." Encyclopedia Britannica.; McCallum, James Dow, ed. The Letters of Eleazar Wheelock's Indians. Hanover: Dartmouth College Publications, 1932; Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. "History and Origins."; Szasz, Margaret Connell. Scottish Highlanders and Native Americans: Indigenous Education in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007.