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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: the Moderator in Egypt

Looking Back

Friday April 1

Looking Back: The Moderator's Mission to the East

In a year in which the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland visited Egypt, we look back 80 years to the visit of one of his predecessors to the same region

(The account is by the Moderator, writing in the third person)



FOR the first time during his term of office a Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has visited the countries of the Sudan and Egypt. The occasion of his visit in the first instance was an invitation from the Bishop in Egypt and the Sudan to preach the annual sermon in memory of General Gordon* in Khartoum Cathedral, and the Moderator’s mission was in due course widened so as to include the churches and mission stations of the Church of Scotland in Egypt.

Sailing from Marseilles in the good ship Worcestershire, the Moderator and his party, consisting of his wife, his senior chaplain, the Rev. W. Phin Gillieson, with Mrs. Gillieson and daughter, reached Port Sudan in the early morning of Sunday, 19th January. After breakfast and a reception in the District Commissioner’s house, the company entrained in the beautiful State saloon car put at their disposal by the Sudan Government, and reached Atbara early the following morning.

There they were received by the Commissioner of the District and the manager of the Railway Works, and were taken to see the Railway Engineering Works. In the afternoon, two large receptions were held, after which the company again entrained, and reached Khartoum on the morning of the following day.

The city of Khartoum must be reckoned one of the most beautiful cities in the East. With its wide palm-lined avenues and handsome buildings of stone and concrete, all embraced by the genial waters of the White and Blue Niles, it gives a sense of space and peace so pleasant in a hot country.

Sunday, the 26th of January was a day full of interest. At the gracious invitation of the Bishop, the Moderator celebrated Holy Communion with him at 7 a.m. in the Cathedral. This friendly recognition of the Church of Scotland has given great satisfaction in Khartoum, especially to our countrymen there, of whom there are many.

At a special military service in the forenoon, the Moderator’s chaplain preached to the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders and a detachment of the Air Force, the Bishop taking the Prayers, and the military band leading the praise. By that time the sad news of the passing of our beloved King George had reached us, and Mr. Gillieson paid a beautiful tribute to his memory.

The Cathedral was again crowded in the evening, this time with a congregation more distinctly civilian. The Moderator preached the Gordon Memorial sermon, and was delighted to learn afterwards that some Moslems who were present declared they were prepared to accept all that he said upon the text, “Things that are excellent”.

On the Tuesday following, Khartoum linked itself to London and all the home countries in paying a sincere and reverent tribute to his late Majesty. This memorable service was held in the lovely grounds of the Governor’s palace, and about 6000 were present, fully 2000 of these being Sudanese. The Moderator and his chaplain were afterwards introduced to the son of the notorious Mahdi, old scores being forgotten.

After other eventful happenings in Khartoum, too many to relate here, the Moderator and his party bade farewell to their many friends and entrained for Wadi-halfa, from which they sailed down the Nile to El-Shellal, taking train from thence to Cairo.

The creation of our beautiful church of St. Andrew’s is a romance too long and intricate for narration, suffice it to say that the Woman’s Guild had no little part in its accomplishment, while to one of its elders and a leading citizen the Church owes an unpayable debt in negotiating for the site with an ever-vacillating Government. The charge is at present in the capable hands of the Rev A. T. Laurence, who with his wife showed us no little kindness.

On the Sunday after our arrival, the Moderator preached to a crowded congregation in St. Andrew’s, and in the evening to a united congregation of St. Andrew’s and the Anglican Church in Cairo, an unprecedented event. After this service, the Moderator and his chaplain addressed a society called “the Fellowship of Unity” in the Archdeacon’s house, members of the following Churches being present – Coptic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Syrian, Presbyterian and Anglican – truly a remarkable gathering seeking and illustrating the unity of Christendom, and a society well worthy of imitation in other centres of our divided churches.

Proceeding from Cairo to Alexandria, the Moderator and his party were welcomed by the Rev. Andrew Reid in charge of our church of St. Andrew’s. One cannot speak too highly of Mr. Reid’s service to the Church in Alexandria, particularly in the Social Club, where crowds of our sailors assembly every night and enjoy all sorts of recreation in the commodious hall beneath the church. During his visit to Alexandria, the Moderator was received by Admiral Sir William Fisher, commanding the Mediterranean fleet, on board H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth.

It was a peculiar pleasure to visit our Boys’ and Girls’ Mission Schools in Alexandria, from which proceed such as, imbued with Christian principles, are a valuable asset to the life of the country. Before leaving Alexandria it was the Moderator’s good fortune to be introduced to the newly elected Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church. He was greeted as the first minister of a Church outside the Patriarch’s own communion who had presented felicitations to His Beatitude, and in expressing pleasure he said that the Church of Scotland was a Church he loved. Thus on an additional note of Christian unity the Moderator’s mission to the East was concluded.

He is filled with a deep sense of thankfulness that he has been permitted to see so much of the advancing power of the Kingdom of God in these lands, while he has been made aware that not a little of that is due to the ministers and missionaries as well as good workers of our own beloved Church of Scotland.

*Major-General Charles Gordon died in 1885 attempting to hold Khartoum against a revolt led by the 'Mahdi' Muhammad Ahmad.

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