Obituary: Rev. W John R Hay MA

Rev. W John R Hay, much-loved and respected Kirk minister
Rev. W John R Hay, much-loved and respected Kirk minister
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Born: 2 January, 1933 in Annan. Died: 29 February, 2016.

On hearing news of Rev. John Hay’s death, the immediate response of a fellow minister and life-long friend was a quote from St. John’s Gospel chapter 1 “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile”. Guilelessness, gentleness, kindness, courage and honesty marked the life of this much loved and respected man. Thoughtful of others to the end, it was apt that his death should occur on 29 February, sparing his wife and family an annual marking of the event.

John was born in Annan where his father was minister of Erskine Church. While he was an infant, the family moved to Airdrie, then some years later to Falkirk where John completed his secondary school education. A modest man with a powerful intellect, his exam successes in sixth year at Falkirk High School spurred the Rector into giving the pupils a celebratory holiday. News of this gesture didn’t reach John until he arrived at the school gates, where he was told by the Janitor: “Away you go back home son! Have ye no’ heard? – that chap Hay has done so well, the Rector’s given the children the day off.” Modest John didn’t bother to reveal his identity and simply set off home to enjoy some respite from study.

He obtained a first class honours degree in Classics at Edinburgh University before gaining firstst class honours in Divinity at New College, Edinburgh, where he won the medal for New Testament studies. As a student, John chose to travel from Falkirk to Edinburgh daily, so that he might support his parents in their care of John’s frail younger brother Patrick who died in his teens, just as John’s university studies were coming to an end.

Licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Linlithgow and Falkirk in 1957, John served from 1957-58 as an assistant at St. Giles Cathedral. Guileless John might have been; but he certainly wasn’t gutless, for a fellow assistant in the late 50’s still recalls John’s gentle but insistent remonstration with the minister of St Giles over a point of principle and of changing the great man’s mind.

Like his parents, William and Grace, along with his late brother Patrick, John was an extremely gifted musician. His services as organist were much in demand at the weddings of fellow divinity graduates and throughout life he enjoyed relaxing at either the piano or the organ. A self-contained man, he was never known to over-react to any of the frustrations that ministry can bring.

The only clue detected by his family that meetings of Board or Kirk Session had been difficult would be John’s immediate recourse to the piano on his return to the manse. The longer and more stridently he played, the more difficult the earlier meeting had been. His record was a two hour “recital”.

Ordained and inducted to St John’s Church, Ardrossan in 1959, John met Catherine Mackenzie, his wife-to-be, in Kilmarnock Infirmary while she was a patient there, home on medical leave from missionary nurse duties in Malawi. Her father, Rev. Colin Mackenzie of Erskine Church, Kilwinning, had asked his colleagues in the Presbytery of Ardrossan to call on his daughter while they were doing their hospital visits. John was glad to oblige. He and Catherine married in 1970.

There followed succeeding ministries in Leslie: Trinity and in Buchanan linked with Drymen from which latter charge John retired in 1995. This early retirement was prompted by a heart attack and subsequent heart surgery. John had nursed the quiet ambition to serve his final years of ministry in the Holy Land, where he and his wife Catherine had led eight tours over a ten-year period; but this was not to be. As a family, the Hays remained ever grateful to the parishioners of Buchanan with Drymen for the many kindnesses shown them at the time of the house fire which gutted the manse, robbing them of their pet dog and of most of their belongings which included John’s treasured piano. The piano was the first item to be replaced. This was later kindly gifted to St Columba’s Church Stewarton once John’s ability and even desire to play had been eroded by the advance of dementia.

By the time he retired, John had served the wider church as Moderator of the Presbyteries of Kirkcaldy and Stirling, respectively. He moderated the final meeting of the Synod of Forth at the time of the abolition of synods within the Church of Scotland. During his ministry, he served on the General Assembly’s Panel on Doctrine and its then Boards of Home Mission, and of Social Responsibly.

John and Catherine retired to Stewarton where John’s ministry as locum tenens in one of the vacancies is still spoken of with affection and esteem. He was hugely supportive of Catherine during her Presidency of St Colm’s Fellowship.

This devoutly Christian man’s instinctive courtesy and graciousness never left him. He has left his mark on many, not least on those who survive him: his wife Catherine, their sons William and Alex-John and all four grandchildren.