COMMUNION AND COMMUNION TOKENS IN THE FALKIRK AREA
Over a year, the four authors of this article worked one day a week at Callendar House, under the supervision of Geoff Bailey, searching through the kirk session records of the parishes of Falkirk, Polmont, Airth, Denny, Muiravonside, Carriden, Bo’ness, Slamannan, and Larbert to find information relating to the administration, rarely termed the ‘celebration’ at that period, of Holy Communion in those parishes. The aim was to provide an introduction to a database of all the communion tokens held by Falkirk Museum. We are now presenting in this article an account of when and how these communions took place, the organisation and arrangements involved in them, and the way in which they developed over the years between 1690, the date of our earliest kirk session record, and the Disruption in the Church of Scotland which took place in 1843 (with a few references to events slightly later in the century.).
After the Scottish Reformation of 1560 there was a marked change in the doctrine of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The pre-Reformation church had seen the mass as an unbloody sacrifice offered by the priest at the altar at the east end which was then the focal point of the church building; the Reformed church brought in an evangelical ministry of the Word with the Bible and the pulpit as the centre of worship. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper ceased to be the sacrifice offered by the priest followed by him administering communion to the laity kneeling at the altar rails; instead, it became a memorial meal, a spiritual communion, where the people sat around an ordinary table and took the bread and wine from cups and plates. John Knox’s ‘First Book of Discipline’, produced at the beginning of the Scottish Reformation, stated that communion was to be held ‘often’, to take place after the morning sermon on a Sunday, and communicants were to sit ‘at or about’ the table. It also named four dates for the communions, the first Sundays of March, June, September and December. It seems from the records of the kirk sessions which we have examined that this good intention remained just that with communion being held only once a year and occasionally not even that frequently. There are no mentions of the Sacrament taking place in Falkirk between 1691 and 1700; it is unlikely that it did not happen and may just not have been considered worthy of recording. It is recorded, however, thereafter. Bo’ness Session minutes, for instance, record that :
‘this day the Mod[erator] delivered to Robert Doughol present Treasurer in Face of the Session One hundred and Twenty Pounds Scots & that as two years expence for defraying the Communion Elements viz for the year 1738 and 1739 when the Sacraments were not dispensed here.’
As time went on more frequent celebrations of the Holy Communion began to take place. In the same parish of Bo’ness, for example, in 1754 we read:
“The Mod[erator] representing that he has an Intention to dispense the Sacrament of the Supper in this place twice a year, desired to know the mind of the session anent it. The Session considering the Proposal went most frankly into it, being of the same Opinion with the Mod[erator] that such a solemn Ordinance was rather too seldom administered amongst us & agreed to have it dispensed Sabbath come a fortnight, recommending it to the Mod[erator] to make Intimation hereof from the Pulpit next Lord’s Day.”
At the beginning of the next century, in 1803, Denny Kirk Session recorded:
“The Session taking into consideration that the more frequent dispensation of the Lord’s Supper might be for edification, and understanding that the wish of the congregation is that it should be dispensed more frequently.”
Falkirk moved to more frequent dispensations of the Sacrament in 1748 as a result of changed circumstances within the parish:
“The Minister intimated that tho’ it had been the use of this parish to have the sacrament only once in two years, yet in Consideration of his having got an assistant from the parish which his predecessors had not, he inclines that among other advantages arising to them from the Assistancy this should be one, viz the Administration of the Sacrament once a year.”
It should be noted that, as a result of neighbouring parishes attending the Sacrament at a church near them, communicants would have the opportunity of making their communion even in a year when their own parish did not administer it. The people of Carriden, for example, are recorded as attending communion services at Bo’ness, Mid-Calder, Uphall, Livingstone and even across the Forth at Torryburn.
Click the headings to find out more: