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Robert Burns Lives!
The Annual Robert Burns Commemorative Service, Dumfries, 23 January 2015 by Rhona Brown

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Greater Atlanta, GA, USA

Iím grateful to Dr. Rhona Brown for sharing details of the special day in January this year honoring Robert Burns at his home kirk in Dumfries. The pew where Burns sat during church services is designated with a small plaque, and I could not resist sitting there for a few minutes of reflection years ago when Susan and I visited. Burns is buried in a mausoleum with other family members in the kirkís cemetery just a few steps from the churchís front door. Rhona has contributed to the pages of Robert Burns Lives! in the past and has been most cooperative in doing so. Next week we will post the sermon delivered by Dr. Gerry Carruthers during the commemorative service. I thank both Rhona and Gerry for their contributions to our website this week and next, and Iím sure you are as eager as I am to hear a sermon by Gerry. (FRS: 3.26.15)

The Annual Robert Burns Commemorative Service
Dumfries, 23 January 2015
By Rhona Brown

St Michaels Church. Dumfries
The graveyard is on the Burns Trail, and the Burns Mausoleum can be found in the graveyard. This photo was taken from by the statue of Jean Amour. Creative Commons Licence © Copyright Alison Stamp and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Professor Gerry Carruthers and I had the great pleasure of representing the University of Glasgowís Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the Annual Robert Burns Commemorative Service and wreath-laying ceremony on 23 January 2015. The service, which was held at Burnsís resting place in St. Michaelís Church, Dumfries, was a memorable one. Although it was a typically wet and windy January day, the service was warm and the pews full.

Rev. Dr M. Bond conducted the service, which was punctuated by contributions from readers, reciters and singers from throughout the Burnsian world. Schoolchildren from all over Dumfries and Dumfriesshire performed Burnsís poems and songs, with one particularly notable rendition of ĎAuld Lang Syneí delivered by two schoolgirls in tartan bonnets, and a beautiful version of ĎA Red, Red Roseí by a group of local students. Alongside these performances were Bible readings from myself and representatives from primary and secondary schools. The service finished with a sermon by Glasgow Universityís Gerry Carruthers, which focused on sympathy and love in Burnsís works. The text of Prof Carruthersís address can be found below. Those of us seated at the altar had a satisfying and cheering view of the full congregation, as well as the striking stained glass portraits of Burns and Jean Armour which adorn the Churchís inner doors. Also plainly visible was a bust of Burns, which I was told had been presented by the Robert Burns World Federation on 25 January 2009, at the 250th anniversary of Burnsís birth. The churchís links with Burns are everywhere on display.

Invitations to the service were extended by David Miller and the members of the Southern Scottish Counties Burns Association, and many of the Associationís representatives were in attendance. Local dignitaries were also present, including Jean Tulloch, Lord Lieutenant of Dumfries. Glasgow Universityís own Interfaith Chaplain, Rev. Stuart MacQuarrie, had important input to the service, and provided an entertaining childrenís address which required a young volunteer to attempt the impossible, by balancing nails on top of each other in a tower. Needless to say, with the right knowledge, the impossible was made possible! These guests and contributors, along with the sheer size of the congregation, show that Burns remains an important and inspirational icon in the local area.

As the service ended, participants were invited to process to the Mausoleum to lay wreaths to commemorate Burnsís birth. As we left the church in our University robes, the rain in full pelt, we were confronted with two striking images: Burnsís original grave site, on the dark side of the cemetery, and the statue of Jean Armour keeping watch across the road. We then made our way to the Mausoleum to lay our wreaths: Prof Carruthersís was for Burns, while I had the privilege of laying a wreath to the memory of Jean Armour.

The involvement of all age groups in this celebration, 256 years after Burnsís birth, demonstrates something of the way in which the Scottish national bardís memory is maintained and preserved. From the student just beginning primary school through to those who have known and loved Burnsís work all their lives, we all shared the knowledge, not only of Burnsís enormous contribution to our literature and culture, but to our identity.

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