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Looking Back

Friday June 25 2021

Looking Back: the Guild's centenary

An account of the 100th anniversary celebrations for the then Woman's Guild in 1987.

Guild's right royal day of celebration

by Muriel Armstrong

A DAY which began with the naming of a locomotive “the Woman’s Guild” by Princess Anne and which ended with a flock of doves being released from the Assembly Hall marked the Woman’s Guild’s right royal day of celebration to mark the centenary. The Guild was truly blessed with a cloudless day in every sense with the added warmth of midsummer. The Assembly Hall was filled to capacity an hour before the meeting began with a further “overflow” meeting gathered in the nearby Martin Hall with closed-circuit television.

A warm and enthusiastic welcome greeted Princess Anne as she took her place in the Throne Gallery with the Moderator and Lord Provost. Mrs May Smith, National President of the Guild welcomed Princess Anne along with guests from other denominations as well as national women’s organisations. Opening worship was led by Mrs Katy Laidlaw, National Vice-President and then the Guildswomen sang their own hymn written by Mrs Betty Ewart, a branch president from Kilmarnock. The words are centred round the Guild’s aim of worship, fellowship and service, culminating in the last line with the words of the motto “Whose we are and Whom we serve”.

In a splendid pageant produced by Mrs Isobel Garden with members of the Woman’s Guild of St Philip’s Church, Joppa, Edinburgh and friends, the guildswomen were taken right through 100 years of Guild history. Each decade was authenticated with the dresses of the day ranging from the early Guild ladies of the 1880’s in their elegant but cumbersome attire, right through the fashions of each era, with flappers and a Charleston, wartime austerity, the “new look” as well as the mini-skirt, accompanied by the Beatles and a horrified John Knox – to a more recent guildswoman in jogging gear and a smart career lady of the 1980’s, accompanied by a domesticated husband, complete with children and cleaning gear.

There was plenty of fun and laughter and seriousness as the history of the Guild was unfolded with sights and sounds of every decade reminding those present of all the active service that had been undertaken throughout the century.

In addressing the Guild as President of the Save the Children Fund, Princess Anne came across as no mere figurehead of that organisation as she outlined the work of the fund with its primary health care programme in Third World countries, as well as its work at home in family centres, with travelling people, ethnic communities, and young offenders.

The need for voluntary organisations would always be present, Princess Anne said, in their flexible response to change and the opportunities they provided for volunteers to help in Christian service.

The Princess was presented with flowers and a special copy of the Guild history by Mrs May Smith’s grand-daughters Kirsten (7) and Laura (5) Donaldson.

In addressing what he described as “the most committed section of the Church”, the Rev. Frank Gibson, Secretary of the Board of Social Responsibility, launched the centenary project aimed at helping “the most abused women in today’s society” – young drug-addicted prostitutes; and with the aid of a taped interview of a girl who has already come into the board’s care, the meeting heard of the “nightmare” existence of drugs and prostitution.

The then Moderator of the General Assembly, Professor Robert Craig, in congratulating the Guild described it as “the strong arm of the Church” whose motto and aims a century after its beginning could not be improved on. If he were asked “What makes the Guild tick?” he said he would say “because it never becomes a talking shop that does nothing, but combines thinking and acting in appreciation of the Christian faith” as it goes out to work with the problems of today which were “equally demanding” to those of 100 years ago.

At this point in the meeting Princess Anne departed on her return journey to London and the Guild’s standing ovation turned into a spontaneous rendering of “Will ye no’ come back again”.

The theme of the meeting which will be echoed throughout branches in the coming session was “Praise for the past, hope for the future”. The Rev. Myra Blyth, Baptist minister and youth secretary at the British Council of Churches, provided the meeting with “Hope for the future” in an address emphasising the four things which Jesus did at the Last Supper – receiving, thanking, breaking, and sharing.

In the morning every Presbyterial council was represented by a banner. At the end of the great centenary day a flock of doves representing the same numbers flew out over Edinburgh from the Assembly Hall at the top of the Mound.

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