Obituary: Dr Duncan Shaw, General Assembly Moderator who helped bring about ‘The Sermon on the Mound’

The Very Rev Dr Duncan Shaw
The Very Rev Dr Duncan Shaw
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The Very Reverend Dr Duncan Shaw of Chapelverna, Representer of the Clan Shaw of Argyll and the Isles, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland 1987. Born: 27 January 1925 in Edinburgh. Died: 20 February 2018 in Edinburgh, aged 93.

A law apprentice, Duncan Shaw enlisted into the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers, serving at home and in India from February, 1943 until October 1947, holding every rank from Lance Corporal to Warrant officer, Class I, by June 1946.

After studying at the University of Edinburgh, from 1947 until 1951, he became minister of St Margaret’s, Edinburgh, on 29 July 1951. Four years later he married Ilse Peiter, the daughter of a former German Confessing Church family, in Dusseldorf.

Shortly after his induction to St Christopher’s Craigentinny Church in 1959, he graduated Ph.D in Scottish history in 1962 at the University of Edinburgh, under Professor Gordon Donaldson, and five years later was awarded the Senior Hume Brown prize in Scottish History for The General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland: their Origins and Development 1560-1600, Edinburgh 1964.

He devoted time to a divided Europe, particularly to Eastern Europe. To that end he learned German, and later, for some years, taught Ecclesiastical German to students in the Edinburgh Theological Faculty.

He was chosen as the British Council of Churches preacher in the United States from July to September 1967 and offered both academic and pastoral positions. He remained at Craigentinny, becoming more aware of the problems facing the Church, and proposed reforms beginning in 1977. A number of his papers were gathered together and published in A Voice in the Wilderness, 1995.

His work received wider recognition with the granting of a Th.Dr from the Comenius Faculty of Theology, Charles University, Prague in 1969; and the Bundesverdienstkreuz, first class, from the Federal Republic of Germany in 1980, for service in Aktion Suehnezeichen, based in East Berlin, having been an honorary member of the United Church of Berlin-Brandenburg since 1969.

During his moderatorial year in 1987 he was invested with the Order of St Sergius by Alexii, Metropolitan of Leningrad, who, at his invitation, was the first representative of the Russian Orthodox Church ever to attend a General Assembly.

Later, on the day of his retirement, he received the Order of St Vladimir by the Russian Consul General in Edinburgh. For his service to the Romanian Orthodox Church he was awarded the Patriarchal Cross in 1978, followed, ten years later, by the Patriarchal Cross for Hierarchs

For 16 years he was a member of the Advisory and Finance Committees of the Conference of European Churches. His final responsibility was the organising of the 1986 Conference of the European Churches at the University of Stirling.

In 1975 he played a role to secure a positive response to the European referendum, chairing the public meeting addressed by Edward Heath in the Old Royal High School building, and later spoke as one of the platform party in the Usher Hall with Lord Carrington, Roy Jenkins and others. Four years later, at the invitation of Professor John P Macintosh, he became committed to seeking a “Yes” vote in the referendum to have a Scottish Parliament established. He served as the Edinburgh chairman and a national executive committee member of the campaign.

As secretary of the General Council of the University of Edinburgh from 1965 to 1993, and General Council Trust, 1982-2000, he was faced with a changing academic world. He drafted papers relating to parliamentary discussions on the Universities of Scotland Bill, sought understanding for the students – Gordon Brown, as student rector, chaired meetings of the Council.

In recognition of his long service as Secretary, the degree of Dr h.c. was conferred on him in 1990.

A Justice of the Peace he was chairman of the Edinburgh Justices Committee for a time, until becoming moderator of the General Assembly. It was then that he was invited by the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, to lunch at 10 Downing Street, subsequent to the traditional moderatorial morning visit earlier in the year, to discuss the possibility of her attending the General Assembly. The outcome was her visit to the following General Assembly, which she addressed in what was dubbed “The Sermon on the Mound.”

In 1991, two years after his wife’s death, he married Anna Libera Dallapiccola, professor of Indian Art, University of Heidelberg.

He retired on 3 January 1997 and resigned his seat in the presbytery of Edinburgh, and thus future General Assemblies, to concentrate on academic study. There followed The Acts and Proceedings of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland, 1560-1618, 2004 (3 vols); Renaissance and Zwinglian Influences in Sixteenth Century Scotland, 2012; and finally The Clan Shaw of Argyll and the Isles: MacGilleChainich of Dalriada, 2015, completed on his 90th birthday.

The Clan had been annihilated in 1614, by Ronald Campbell of Barrichbeyan, bailie of Jura, and other Campbells, and the Clan was forgotten. On his identifying the name MacGilleChainnich, the Clan was re-established in 2005, on his recognition as its Representer by the Lord Lyon, King of Arms.

He leaves behind wife Anna and daughter Erika; his elder daughter, Hedda, and his only son, Neil, having predeceased him.

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