Organisation of the Communion Service

 The business of organising the movements and policing the behaviour of a much larger than normal congregation from the kirkyard to the kirk for the administration of the bread and wine involved a careful and detailed amount  of planning if ‘decency and good order’, a term frequently found in the Session records, were to be maintained. The elders were appointed to man the various entrances to the church, to bring in the elements of bread and wine, to collect the money offerings, and to collect the communion tokens. One of the earliest local records we have is that of Airth in 1662:

“This day Thomas Baad caryed the bread, John Logan the wine, Archibald Hodge filled the north, Alexr Elphingstoune south, Higgin rid the way at the south syde of the table head, Wm Richardson rid way at the tables end on the north syde, Robert Callendar, Henry Ballantyne served at the table foot.”

This would seem to mean that there were elders at the north and south to usher communicants in and two others to rid, or redd, that is, to clear the communicants away from the table on each side, and another at the foot of the table. In the reformed tradition the minister and elders assisted the communicants to sit around the table and help themselves and each other to the bread and wine.

At Bo’ness in 1710 there is this description of the way matters were organised in that parish:

“The Session considering what may be for Decency & Order at the Sacrament appoint Stephen Cuthel to keep the Pulpit Door, David Jervay the easter Door, Thomas Craigh the wester, James Cassilis, Richard Durie to stand at the north Door for collecting on Saturday and Ro. Stedman, Alexr. Stark on Sabbath, James Watchman & John Maltman on Monday & James Anderson collect in the passage thro’ ye Church yards.”

That passage between the churchyards at Bo’ness is now Church Wynd and in 1717 it was a cause of the kind of behaviour that would offend against ‘decency & order’:

“The Session appoints Wm Darling to speak to the Baillie to cause his officers prevent any people from Climming the dykes and to prevent any from Collecting in the passage betwixt the Churchyards.”

They seem to have solved the problem by employing the Town Drummer to act as a policeman:

“To the Drummer for waiting on the church yard and preventing abuses there, one pound four shillings Scots.”

One of the fullest descriptions of the way in which the service was organised and administered comes from the kirk session records of Falkirk parish:

11th July 1735

                     This day was the meeting for prayer, which exercise being over the Session took under consideration the administrating of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

And in the first place they appoint John Dundee to take care of the Elements in the Session house.

Next they appoint the Elders to serve the Tables by six. James Gilchrist John Burn, Thomas Heugh, and James Brown to serve the first two Tables. And in the second course John Smith, John Leishman, James Young, Thomas Robertson James Gilchrist and John Burn to assist in serving the third table, and Thomas Heugh and Robert Muirhead to assist at serving the fourth Table and so on.

      Appoint the Elders of the first course to relieve the Elders at the East Door and West Door during the serving the second two Tables, and them to be relieved by the second course in their Order.

      Appoint four Elders to attend the Collection at the Styles on the Fast-day, viz James Gilchrist, John Dundee, Robert Muirhead, and James Young. On the Preparation day John Burn, Thomas Heugh James Brown and Thomas Robinson.

      On Sabbath James Gilchrist, Thomas Heugh, and John Leishman. On the Thanksgiving day John Dundee, Joseph Thomson, John Smith, and Thomas Robertson.

      Appoint John Burn, James Brown, & Thomas Robertson to keep the East Door on Sabbath and Robert Muirhead, Joseph  Thomson and James Young to keep the West Door.

      Appoint John Dundee to keep the Revel[a fence of interwoven slats]. Appoint the Thesaurers to employ a wright to remove the seats in the North Isle where the Tables are to be placed and to mend any thing needful about the Tables or Furms [sic] or Tent.

      Appoint the Officer to show the Table-cloths to the Thesaurers to see that they be in order.

      Appoint the South Entries, except the Styles to be shut up till the first Sermon be over.

      Appoint the old Tokens to be new-moulded with the letters F-K, and whatever new Lead is needed to be got. Appoint also a new lid for one of the Flagons.

Allan Ronald, 2021

See Communion Vessels and Linen to continue reading about the administration of Communion. .