Appreciation: Gordon Strachan

Minister with a modern approach to philosophy

Born: 24 January, 1934, in Cheam.

Died: 14 July, 2010, in Edinburgh, aged 76.

Gordon Strachan was a remarkable combination of a radical thinker and teacher and a Church of Scotland minister, whose imaginative and fearless approach to esoteric and spiritual matters influenced and inspired an extensive circle of friends and admirers.

His controversial, even maverick, theories were not always welcomed by conventional university or church colleagues, but his unprejudiced and generous attitude to our mythological past opened the minds of many of his students and readers to fresh insights into religion and philosophy.

His determined enquiry into doctrines such as astrology and gematria, and his profound respect for all religious faiths demonstrated that such an attitude, far from destroying one's own faith, is a means of informing and strengthening it. He had a puckish and, at times, ironic, sense of humour which enlivened his teaching.

Gordon was born in Cheam in 1934, the youngest of four children. His father Charles was a very popular GP and his mother, Annie Primrose, came from a long line of ecclesiastical Leckies associated with Crieff Hydro.

He had a happy early childhood and became something of a hero at his prep school, Downsend, because he was good at football and cricket.

During the war, he and his sister Liz were evacuated for brief periods to Romaldkirk in County Durham to stay with two aunts.

It was an idyllic time, roaming freely in the countryside, learning to love nature with a passion. It was this experience that led to his love of Wordsworth and romantic poetry, which grew stronger at secondary school, St Edward's in Oxford.

TS Eliot's poetry resonated with his teenage angst and he actually wrote to him, saying how much his poems meant to him; he got a very encouraging letter back.

After national service with the 4th Queen's Own Hussars, and a time as steward and assistant head waiter in the Merchant Navy - a job he loved - he studied history at Oxford.

He found the place claustrophobic, but it was there that he felt a calling to the ministry through a John Stott mission, realising that his passion was theology, not history. He wanted to know how God spoke through history and that question never left him. In 1957 Gordon went to New College to study theology, and won prizes in systematic theology.

He enjoyed his years as a student and became charities convenor for the university, in 1960 leading the charities parade on a white charger! Dr Winifred Rushforth, the dream psychotherapist, became a very important part of his life at this time.

Gordon's first post was as assistant minister to Iain Reid in west Pilton for two years from 1962. He joined the Iona Community and spent a number of summers with others there, helping George McLeod, whom he greatly admired, rebuild the Abbey.

Then, for six years, Gordon became minister in Dalmarnock in the East End of Glasgow. On one famous occasion a service was being broadcast live from his church; it was raining, but he was planning to lead a procession, so Gordon got everyone, including the sound crew, to pray for the rain to stop and it did just in time. It began again the moment everyone was back inside.

In the late 60s Gordon encountered the charismatic movement and began his PhD on Edward Irving, a 19th century Scottish Divine in whose London Church "speaking in tongues" broke out, leading to his being denounced as a heretic by the Church of Scotland.

Gordon was particularly interested in the healing ministry and in the theology of the charismatic movement and became a speaker at various charismatic gatherings in the early 1970s, which is where he met Elspeth Goring, his wife to be, who was finishing her MA.

Together they ran the Netherbow Art Centre for six years (1974-80), a really formative time with poets, ecologists, feminists, artists, musicians, women's guild members, dance troupes and youth fellowships all mingling creatively together.

From an early age Gordon had loved art, and after New College he obtained a scholarship to study art and theology in Israel. This was when he developed his distinctive style of cosmic elemental pictures, imbued with theological and cosmological themes.

After he and Elspeth married in 1979 they both took a sabbatical and wrote books. Elspeth has written one, Freeing the Feminine, and Gordon wrote six in all: The Pentecostal Theology of Edward Irving; Christ and the Cosmos; Jesus the Master Builder; Chartres; The Return of Merlin and Prophets of Nature.

The best known is Jesus the Master Builder which he started in Israel (where he and Elspeth ran the St Andrew Centre in Tiberias); it has now become a film, available on DVD.

Above all Gordon loved teaching and he loved people. He was very sad last year to have to give up teaching for the University of Edinburgh Office of Lifelong

Learning after more than 25 years of extramural classes; he also taught briefly in the Department of Architecture on Gothic architecture, and at New College. He is survived by his wife and their son Christopher, of whom Gordon was especially proud.

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