Knight honour for Queen’s chaplain
John Ballantyne Cairns was born in wartime London on March 15, 1942. His father was a papermaker, but was serving as an officer in the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the family lived in Carnoustie and Ballater before returning to London.
John went to school in Kent, then did a law degree at Bristol University and worked for a City law firm in London for four years before moving to East Lothian.
He lived in Haddington and worked in the council’s legal administration department before going to Edinburgh’s New College to train as a minister in 1969.
He was ordained in January 1974 and served as an assistant minister in Elgin for two years, then in 1975 moved to the Borders where he was minister of four parishes centred on Langholm for ten years.
In 1985 he began a 16-year ministry at Riverside Parish Church in Dumbarton.
He was chosen as Moderator of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly in 1999, the year the Scottish Parliament was established. Because the newly-elected MSPs were meeting in the Assembly Hall, the Kirk moved its annual gathering to the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.
Dr Cairns moved back to East Lothian in 2001 as minister of Aberlady and Gullane and stayed for the next eight years. No sooner had he retired than he was appointed as locum at the Church of Scotland’s St Columba’s Church in London, where he served for two years.
Dr Cairns was appointed as a chaplain to the Queen in 1997 and was made Dean of the Chapel Royal – effectively the head chaplain – in 2006. The role – said to be the oldest continuously occupied church position in Scotland with evidence it existed as long ago as 1180 – saw Dr Cairns taking part in special occasions, like last year’s Diamond Jubilee service for the Queen, and helping to choose which ministers were invited to preach at Crathie Church when the Queen is at Balmoral. His last duty was to attend a service in Westminster Abbey a few weeks ago to mark the coronation anniversary.
The chaplains also entertained the Queen at a private function at Edinburgh’s New Club to mark her diamond wedding in 2007.
Dr Cairns officially stepped down from the Dean’s job last week and was received by the Queen at the Palace of Holyroodhouse where she knighted him by investing him with the Insignia of the Royal Victorian Order. He was also appointed as an “Extra Chaplain” to her Majesty in Scotland. He said he would not be using the “Sir” tag.
Dr Cairns now lives in retirement in Dunbar with his wife, Liz, a retired GP. The couple have three grown-up sons. He will continue to serve as chaplain to the Royal Company of Archers, the Queen’s Scottish bodyguards.