Obituary: Rev Louise Duncan, church minister

Popular Church of Scotland minister who was devoted to her Balerno parishioners
Popular Church of Scotland minister who was devoted to her Balerno parishioners
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BORN: Northern Ireland. Died: 17 February, 2015, in Balerno, aged 41.

With her broad smile and vivacious personality, Louise Duncan endeared herself to the parishioners and entire community of Balerno. Her sad early death from bone cancer has robbed the town, and the Church of Scotland, of an irresistible force for good that made her such a popular figure. She led the congregation with warmth, dedication, enthusiasm and boundless energy. Duncan devoted much of her five years at Balerno to ensuring elderly people were looked after while also being heavily involved in work for the young people of the parish.

The respect and love in which Duncan was held is captured in the tribute from Hayley Cohen, her young assistant at Balerno in 2012.

She spoke of the help and guidance she received as a young assistant minister and said: “Her pastoral care style was gentle, loving and full of humour. Louise was always diplomatic and had a deft manner of diffusing awkward situations.

“If there was anyone to learn about how to handle church meetings from, it was Louise. She lives on in my heart and the hearts of so many others who have had their lives touched and changed by her beautiful spirit.”

Louise Duncan (née Robinson) was brought up in Belfast and met her husband while they were working in Israel in 1996. She returned with him to his native Scotland and initially she was associate minister with the Rev Ian Gilmour at South Leith Kirk for five years.

She is remembered in Leith with much affection – especially at Leith Academy, where she acted as the school’s passionate and genial chaplain. On her last day she was presented with a fine watercolour of the Leith docks in memory of the work she had done for the area.

Duncan came to Balerno Parish in 2010 and her outgoing personality made an immediate impact. She was keen to involve everyone – whether they were churchgoers or not.

In 2013 she was pleased when the church was highly commended for its environmental work under the Eco-Congregation scheme. Duncan encouraged the youth groups to engage in imaginative environmental initiatives. Their enterprise was rewarded when Rev Trevor Jamieson, Environmental Chaplain to Eco-Congregation Scotland, led a special service at Balerno Parish.

One of Duncan’s joys in Balerno was her support for The Mill, which was housed in the St Joseph’s Centre. The project was quite well advanced when Duncan arrived but she took on a very personal responsibility for its decoration – the curtains and logo were very much approved by her – thus giving it a welcoming appearance and atmosphere.

She herself was often to be seen there, whether it was for the Women’s Guild, Tattie Days or toddlers groups. Duncan was in attendance, smiling and welcoming everyone.

The café was a meeting place where she could hold informal meetings and chat to folk individually. She had her 40th birthday party there and when she ran the Edinburgh Marathon in 2013 she raised funds for the centre.

Through her example and commitment The Mill became a place where anyone and everyone could just drop in.

It also held social evenings and many a ceilidh – Duncan, one member of her parishioners has written, “was the all-time best dancer”.

The lasting mark Duncan had made on the Church of Scotland was apparent at her funeral, which was held at Balerno Parish with a live relay into the St Joseph’s Centre. The Moderator attended, as did numerous ministers from neighbouring parishes and nearly the entire Edinburgh presbytery.

Last August she was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer known as Chondrosarcoma. She remained devoted to the work of the church but the disease seriously affected her mobility and she was confined to a wheelchair.

Duncan showed her strength of will until the middle of February when, after conducting both the morning and evening service, with her usual devotion, dedication and informal joy, she was transferred to the Marie Curie Hospice, where she died.

She greatly benefited from the support and care of her husband Derek, who teaches at Currie High School.

The Duncans and their son Tom were a close family and spent much time walking and cycling in the countryside around Balerno – an area they all grew to love. They were keen film-goers and supported Balerno Village Screen, whose secretary has written: “Louise backed us 100 per cent in our efforts to provide a community cinema that included people of all faiths and none. We would not be here without her.”

It was a fitting tribute to a lady who captured the hearts of many in her charge.

The Rev Louise Duncan is survived by her husband and son.