Music The Church in Scotland The Free Church

Music, Fun, Psalms, Cowboy Boots and the Free Church

The following articles and editorial are in todays Press and Journal. For those of you who don’t get that august publication I thought you might find this interesting and encouraging….good to have Joe Barnard and John Wilson in the Free Church!

Music key for fun time at Free Church
The Press and Journal 17 Feb 2015

There is a perception that the words “fun” and “Free Church” are rarely heard in the same sentence.

But that could be changing thanks to a rising singing star and a cowboy boots-wearing minister.

Music during worship was frowned on by the church in the past, but now electric guitars and keyboards are the order of the day in a revolutionary Inverness-shire congregation.

And as a result Kiltarlity Free Church has seen attendances grow over the past few years, thanks to the Rev Joe Barnard, 33, and John Wilson, 30, who acts as worship leader for the congregation.

But where traditionally the psalms would be sung in the Free Church without musical accompaniment and led by a precentor, Mr Wilson, a formally-trained musician, uses modern instruments and tries out different musical styles, and according to Mr Barnard makes the traditional style of worship “as fun to sing as a Matt Redman ballad”.

This includes an unusual “call and response” approach which is designed to make the music more interactive and “a more lively style of music”, said Mr Wilson

He added: “People often try to sing the psalms like they would hymns. If you can find the right psalm translated into an appropriate musical meter, this can often work well.

“However the psalms in their originality were never really designed to be sung in that way and at Kiltarlity we are beginning to take a d i ff e r e n t a p p r o a c h b y singing them in a more interactive style.

“It is not only a fun and accessible way of singing, but also an excellent way of remembering psalms in their entirety.”

The singer and guitarist is a former young Highland Singer of the Year at the Inverness Music Festival and has been mixing his talent with worship since 2010 while completing a degree in theology at the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster.

Mr Barnard, who originally hails from New Orleans, then asked him to help with his vision for a resurgence of psalm

John Wilson, worship leader at Kiltarlity Free Church singing in t he Scottish church. Mr Barnard described his worship leader as an “incredible talent, adding: “Our ambition at Kiltarlity is for there to be a resurgence of psalm si nging in t he Scottish church. This will never happen unless our style of singing changes.

“We need to embrace the psalms and to find a way to connect their timeless words to the palate of 21st century ears.

“Our hope is that one day Baptist churches, independent churches, even Pentecostal churches will be looking to the Free Church for inspiration with praise.”

Minister in cowboy boots tackles church’s ‘reputation’
The Press and Journal 17 Feb 2015

I arrived to Kiltarlity Free Church about five years ago in a pair of cowboy boots. Having spent my life in New Orleans and the central plains of Texas I began to work within the church largely unaware of how the denomination was perceived in the Highlands.

“But I quickly learned that the Free Church of Scotland had a reputation. Ask people in the Highlands what comes to mind when they think about the Free Church and the result is a list of adjectives including the following: dead, boring, stale, traditional, paternalistic, stubborn, irrelevant, culturally ignorant, and so on.

“At first I thought that – since the opinion was prevalent – it must be true. I did see a few signs of traditionalism, and I feared that this drift might represent the ethos of the church as a whole. But five years later, and now formally a minister within the church, I can happily say that my fears were unwarranted.

“When thinking about the Free Church it is worth remembering the difference between a prejudice and a judgment. Having come from Louisiana, a Southern State in the US, I know a lot about prejudice and how it can blind people from the truth. A judgment is an opinion rooted in evidence and experience. A prejudice is a set opinion that endures in spite of how things change. My personal sense is that right now there is an unhelpful prejudice against the Free Church in the Highlands which is keeping many people from seeing the actual church as it exists today, not 30 or 40 years ago.

“So how does a 33-yearold guy from New Orleans view the Free Church? I would describe it as follows. First, politically engaged. With a moderator elect like Rev David Robertson, the Free Church is invested in making Scotland better in the 21st century.

“Second, socially active. Go to a newly refurbished Free Church and you will find, not just a place of worship, but a centre of community.

“Thirdly, culturally relevant. Visit our website and you will discover the Bible speaking to contemporary life.

Fourthly, gospel driven. Reformation is about being revitalised without losing identity. The good news of the gospel has not changed and therefore is still the foundation of ministry in the Free Church.

Rev Joe Barnard is minister-elect of Kiltarlity Free Church

Editorial: And finally
The Press and Journal 17 Feb 2015

Worshippers at a Scottish Free Church in the Highlands are striking out on their own by singing psalms in a new style – and with guitars to provide the backing music.

It is quite a breakthrough for the Free Church, but you can bank on music to break down barriers and bring people together in harmony. More people should try it.


  1. This novel approach for the Free Church with a “call and response” and different worship style may address its “reputation” but is someone with an “incredible talent” and a change in how songs are sung going to “bring people together in harmony” any better than how songs were sun before?

    If music were something to bank on bringing harmony among people then why go to the Free Church? Why not just go to a rock or pop concert?

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