Friday, 15 April 2011

Roland Walls RIP

Today, Father Roland Walls, one of the most remarkable figures in late 20th/early 21st century Scottish Christianity was laid to rest.  Many have written of his passing.
My own memories of Fr Roland date back to an Aberdeen Divinity Faculty retreat at The Burn at Edzell back in the 1980's.  Potentially it was a tricky occasion.  In those days Aberdeen was the favoured "out of the province" training centre for Northern Irish Presbyterian ministers and my  fellow Celts were not all that happy when the Master of Christ's College announced that the retreat would be led by a Roman Catholic monk!  The disarming process started as soon as we arrived.  We trooped into the Common Room searching for tea to find a frankly dishevelled old tramp sitting there in a moth eaten fisherman's sweater, puffing on an ancient and evil smelling Stonehaven briar pipe filled with the most pungent Thick Black plug it has been my misfortune to encounter since my late grandfather used to smoke it when I was wee!  Then we spotted the clerical collar and realised this unlikely vision was indeed our spiritual leader for the next 3 days!  Suffice it to say that the gentle and virtually constant chortling, the tangible goodness and godliness and the power of his talks on the Psalms so won over even the hardest nosed UVF supporter that we all turned out to join in his Sunday Mass even though none of us could receive and he used a Styrofoam coffee cup as a chalice!
My next encounter was just as enjoyable.  He and my old Theology Prof James Torrance had written a booklet on John Duns Scotus. I toddled along to the launch which RW chaired looking like a most amiable Buddha throughout.  Things took glorious flight when a very polite and intellectually rigorous stairheid rammy erupted over the clash between Revealed and Natural theology.  The Natural was vigorously promoted by Alastair Haggart, former Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus and sometime Principal of Coates Hall, the Revealed strongly defended by  JB Torrance.  The dazed incomprehension on the faces of the Edinburgh Church scene's chattering classes was a true wonder, as they dimly realised that their "nice" "ecumenical" "let's not be beastly to people we disagree with because they ARE sincere" approach wasn't in the same ball park as real disciplined Dogmatics and real heavyweight theologians can disagree strongly and still respect each other and not fall out!  Roland Walls sat serenely above this clash of Titans, chuckling and enjoying the great fun of a proper theological discourse!
In recent years I often ran into Roland as Brother John Halsey pushed him along the canal bank for a wee outing from the Little Sisters of the Poor care home where he lived.  he may have been confused but he was happy and his love of God and union with the Divine still shone through the dementia.  We shall not see his like again.  Rise in glory Father and keep on chuckling!


  1. Roland as I knew him as Dean of Chapel at Corpus Christi College Cambridge generously prepared me for confirmation one-to-one. Later, I enjoyed his way of speaking at HC - one one memorable occasion, I felt he was about to levitate at the homily. I taxed him about that, he said that he found difficulty in giving spiritual guidance to those he had been drinking with only the previous night! Never in my life have I found another clergman who in any way reached Roland's pinnacle of True Christian Excellence.

  2. I can imagine Anon that after RW, all the rest of the clergy come across as...less godly, a bit insipid and rather compromised. That's the bother with meeting saints! Most of the rest of us ain't saints!