burning churches

St John the Baptist, Portsoy, is an Episcopal church, which means it recognizes the authority of a bishop. (Take the ends off the word and [e] ’piscop’ [al] is the old Greek root of ‘bishop’.)

Our bishop is the bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney in the Scots Episcopal church. The whole family of these churches round the world is called the Anglican Communion. ‘Anglican’ just means ‘English’, and the Church of England has always been top dog in the Anglican Communion, though the Archbishop of Canterbury cannot tell the other churches what to do.

The Scottish Episcopal church has never liked being called ‘the English church’, and when the Americans fought their war of independence they didn’t either, and came to Scotland for their first bishop. The Anglican Communion tries to combine the best insights of both Protestant and Catholic Christianity.

After the Reformation the Scottish church couldn’t make up its mind about bishops. On the whole the North East liked them, and the South West didn’t. The Church of Scotland was ruled by bishops until 1689, when the bishops refused to swear allegiance to William of Orange, and they and those who agreed with them were put out of the parish churches.

Round here the local people didn’t want them put out, so it was only after the 1715 Jacobite rebellion that Mr Gallie, the parish minister, lost his job for being a Jacobite and an Episcopalian.

Soon after 1715 a ‘non-juring’ chapel (refusing the oath to the Hanoverians) was built at Durn. This is the ancestor of the present church, and we still have the communion cup and some pewter plate from this era.  The chapel was burned down by the Duke of Cumberland’s army after the 1745 rebellion.

The Portsoy Episcopalians had a rough time, and met in little hidden chapels that seemed like private houses. Afterwards the Scots Episcopalians in Portsoy were bolder than those in Banff in coming out into the open.

Butcher Cumberland

Butcher Cumberland

The penal laws were repealed, and the Episcopal Church became legal again. The present St John’s was built in 1840. Some still remember the Revd John R Brown, Rector from 1914 to 1952, who served as Town Councillor and Provost. The small congregation is now linked to the Episcopal churches in Buckie and Banff – all three had earlier churches burned down by Cumberland’s army in 1746.

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