Obituary: Rev Allan MacArthur, minister and Kirk presbytery clerk

Rev Allan Ian MacArthur died aged 88
Rev Allan Ian MacArthur died aged 88
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Rev Allan Ian MacArthur, minister. Born 22 May 1928 at Marvig, Isle of Lewis. Died 30 November 2016 in Edinburgh, aged 88

The Reverend Allan MacArthur played a key role in church and community politics for more than four decades, setting a Kirk record of 34 years’ continuous service as presbytery clerk before stepping aside in 2015. He witnessed some turbulent times as clerk to the vast rural hinterland of Lochcarron and Skye Presbytery, which made national headlines more than once during official visits by Kirk Moderators.

In 1994 there was a furore when the Rev James Weatherhead suffered the ultimate discourtesy for a Moderator, being barred from the pulpit at Kyle of Lochalsh because he had doubted the literal truth of the Virgin Birth.

Ten years later, traditionalists very nearly boycotted the visit of Professor Iain Torrance after press reports he would be “utterly untroubled” by gay ministers in the Kirk.

On both occasions Mr MacArthur had to dig deep for reserves of diplomacy to keep the show on the road for ten days under the gaze of the nation’s media. This resulted in flak from those who perceived him as soft on traditional orthodoxy, but as presbytery clerk he took the view that church governance would collapse if interminable debate over reheated theological issues took precedence.

Allan Ian MacArthur was born at Marvig, Lewis, where his father was school headmaster. His route to the ministry was circuitous and included a three-year stint in the 1950s with the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (nowadays the British Antarctic Survey) in the South Atlantic and South Pole.

Then came graduation from Glasgow University, followed by a period teaching English, History and Geography in the city’s east end. The call to the ministry came in the late 1960s, prompting the rest of the family to relocate to Stornoway while he studied for his Divinity degree in Glasgow. These were tough times financially, with two adults and seven children having to survive on a student grant for three years.

In 1973 he was ordained and inducted to Lochcarron and Applecross, one of the biggest parishes in Scotland in terms of land mass, and remained there until retirement in 1998. He was, however, much in demand post-retirement for church services, weddings and funerals and would always oblige if at all possible. He was a frequent commissioner to the Kirk’s General Assembly and sat on some of its key committees in Edinburgh.

Over and above his pastoral duties, he was closely involved with numerous organisations that had a direct impact on his community. These included membership of Ross and Cromarty District Council, the Crofters Commission and Albyn Housing Society, which was vital in bringing much-needed housing to Strathcarron.

He was also a board member of the flagship Howard Doris Centre in Lochcarron, which for more than 20 years has provided accommodation, day care, medical, nursing and social facilities which enable local people to remain in their community when in need of care. The money to finance it was largely a legacy of the boom years of oil rig building at nearby Loch Kishorn, when the Howard Doris yard had a workforce of thousands, resulting in much additional pastoral work for the minister. Mr MacArthur chaired the Kishorn Liaison Committee, which was tasked with maintaining good relations between site and community and ensuring local people got their share of job opportunities.

His service to the community extended to board membership of Ross and Cromarty Enterprise, one of the network of local companies that were part of the development agency, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, during the 1990s.

Other duties included service on the Children’s Panel and the local Parent Teacher Association, as well as being a Justice of the Peace. He also found time to be chairman of the community magazine, An Carrannach, and vice-chairman of Lochcarron Community Council. As a fluent Gaelic speaker, he was much in demand as a contributor to Gaelic radio and television.

This public service resulted in a high annual mileage on roads that were for many years seriously sub-standard. Mr MacArthur was himself to the fore in the campaign to upgrade them to their present acceptable state.

His son, Allan, said: “People will remember dad for his integrity and personal pastoral support for those going through tough times. Time and time again at his funeral, I heard how he was always there for people when they needed him.”

Presbytery elder Donald MacRae said: “We owe Allan a great debt of gratitude for the way he so helpfully conducted our business. He was very willing to do whatever he was asked to do and go wherever there was a need. He was a great encourager to us all, even when some congregations exasperated him by not returning their statistical forms or necessary schedules on time. He was always good natured with them and dealt with those difficulties by using his inimitable smile to resolve the problem. His philosophy was, ‘anger restrained, conquest gained’.”

Mr MacArthur moved to Edinburgh in June, 2015, to be nearer his family. He died in St Columba’s Hospice after a brief illness. He is survived by his wife Effie (his funeral took place 62 years to the day they married) and children Anne, Rosemary, Grace, Donella, Allan, Ruth and Heather and ten grandchildren.

PETER MACAULAY