Monday, 28 September 2009

On the passing of clerics.

It's rather difficult sometimes to put down your thoughts on the passing of friends and acquaintances, particularly when their passing is "clouded". After all, the clergy are expected to live blameless and worthy lives and go to their eternal rest wreathed in the odour of sanctity. And they mostly do. (Well, there once was the Rector of Stiffkey who was sacked for hanging out with prozzies and who was mauled to death by a lion in a circus act - but I digress). So here are my thoughts on two acquaintances who died in the last 7 days.

Fr John Paul had a very distinguished career in the SEC. A Wykehamist and Edinburgh graduate, he spent the early part of his career as a missionary in Mozambique with the UMCA. His time there covered the trauma of their war of liberation from Portugal and he wrote a fine memoir "Mozambique: memoirs of a Revolution" describing his experiences. His ministry in Scotland took him from well heeled Prayer Book loving tweed jackets in Castle Douglas, to seaside ministry in Portobello, to a Morayshire parish at Elgin where he also served as Dean of the Diocese. I first ran into him there in 1986 when I was part of an ecumenical mission from Christ's College Aberdeen (the Divinity Faculty) to Elgin. Some gentle ribbing was received, when my colleagues from the Kirk discovered the Rector was called John Paul and his curate Alexander Guinness. "Typical Piskies: wan thinks he's the Pope, the ither thinks he's an actor"!

JP was a lovely, gentle man and rather a gossip (but not in a malicious sort of way) who was always cheerful and supportive. He retired to East Lothian and carried out well regarded post retirement ministries at St Michael and All Saints in Edinburgh and at Haddington. His pastoral sensitivity is nicely illustrated by the story of his 1st Sunday in Elgin. UMCA clergy were never exactly Low Church but when he arrived at Elgin he inquired what sort of service they were used to. "Oh, we're very middle of the road, Rector". So he he dressed in stole and surplice and conducted the liturgy thus attired. Grumbles were heard. A senior layperson gently took him aside and said "Noo Father, ah ken they said they were middle o' the road but they're no really. Up here, middle o' the road means High Mass, nae incense!" He was well loved and will be much missed. Resquiat in Pacem.

The other death was Ian Thomson, Dean of King's College Cambridge and formerly Rector of St Mary's Carden Place Aberdeen (The Tartan Kirkie"). Ian was almost a contemporary of mine at Coates Hall (I left as he arrived) and joined the SEC after many years as a Salvation Army officer. Sadly, he appears to have taken his own life after a lengthy period under investigation for sexual offences dating back many years. I knew Ian slightly and liked him as a person and, without condoning clerical sexual misconduct, stick firmly to the line that you are innocent until PROVEN guilty. It appears that the case had been running for nearly 18 months, although the polis have not said if the case was active or currently cold. It seems strange that such a serious allegation could not be brought to conclusion more quickly (for the sakes both of the victim if guilty and the accused if innocent) and, having known others who have been thus accussed and later exonerated, I have some idea of the terrible strain that results from waiting for the results of an investigation and the toll it can exact on the persons mental health. So Ian too I commend in my prayers to the mercy and grace of our loving God.

Oddly enough, one of my predecessors at Falkirk Ivor Erskine St Clair Ramsey, went on to be Dean of King's Cambridge and died mysteriously (falling from the chapel roof). There is debate as to whether he jumped or if he slipped when out stargazing (his hobby was astronomy). Cambridge is perhaps a place Scottish clergy ought to avoid!


  1. (Well, there once was the Rector of Stiffkey who was sacked for hanging out with prozzies and who was mauled to death by a lion in a circus act - but I digress)

    He wuz framed!
    Can't a clergyman spend the night with a prostitute without everybody jumping to the obvious conclusion?

  2. I simply said he was hanging MP. 'Twas Bishop Pollock of Norwich (an Evo prude) who assumed he was up to no good.

    There once was a Rector of Stiffkey,
    was accused of paying for nookie.
    His Low Church Episcop
    Decided to unfrock
    So he was chewed by a lion - poor cookie!

    The lousy poetry comes free of charge!