Obituary: Robert Waters, church leader, innovator and manager of change

R Revd Robert Waters, MBE, MA. Born: 8 July, 1930. Died 4 July, 2020 aged 90

Robert Waters has died at the age of 90
Robert Waters has died at the age of 90

Bob Waters was born the eldest of a family of four and grew up in an Edinburgh housing estate.

The tough competition of the streets and the love of the countryside – especially trout fishing –- made deep marks in his character. Despite obvious ability,economic circumstances meant that he had to leave school and start work as soon as possible.

National Service in the RAF was followed by the opportunity to join the National Coal Board’s educational scheme. He became a coal miner and studied in his spare time. That was his background when, in a Student Evangelical Campaign in Musselburgh, run by Dr Charles Duthie, he was converted to Christianity.

Still working at Prestonlinks Coal Mine, he studied to gain university entrance, and then matriculated at Edinburgh University, the Scottish Congregational College,and the University of Chicago. He served as minister in two charges, East Kilbride and Augustine Bristo in Edinburgh – both of them specialist ministries focusing on new development, the repurposing of traditional church buildings.

In the case of Edinburgh, that led to a radical shift to rediscover their downtown ministry, and a superb redesign of the church premises to incorporate offices – including the headquarters of Christian Aid, Scotland.

At the age of 41, Bob became the youngest minister to serve as General Secretary of the Congregational Union of Scotland. He served for 24 years through times of great change. The Congregational Union produced the Scottish Congregational church, later to unite to become part of the United Reformed Church. On a global scale, he saw the London Missionary Society become the Council for World Mission.

Within Scotland, he helped set up the Scottish Down’s Syndrome Association as an independent Scottish charity. He was one of a small group which created the Kirk Care Housing Association, where he chaired the Housing Liaison Group, helping to deal with retiral housing for ministers of all denominations.

He served through the years in the Multilateral Church Conversation in Scotland, eventually for some years as its Chairman. With Cardinal Gordon Gray, he set up a Church Leaders Group working with the Secretary of State to form links between politics and community. Malcolm Rifkind, Ian Laing and Michael Forsyth were the Scottish Secretaries with whom he worked.

Bob was one of the Church Representatives on the Scottish Constitutional Convention, where he contributed

in typical vigorous style.

Bob was a representative on the World Council of Churches, the World Alliance of Reformed Church, and most memorably was at the heart of the evolution of the London Missionary Society into the Council for World Mission. There, as Chairman of Corporations, he succeeded in securing its financial future.

Back in Scotland, he helped set up an Investment Association among Churches to enable support for Third World business, which led to the enterprise known as Shared Interest.

In a life not so much busy as hectic, Bob Waters still made time for his family, his son Derek and daughter Nicola. Over the years he depended totally on his wife Magdalene as home builder and sustainer. His endless hours and many absences were only possible because of that stable and loving support.

When his retirement came, it was marked with a well deserved MBE and a chance to write, paint and take time for the trout fishing he had so little time for in his busier days.

Change in the Church and in society is often hotly resisted. Bob had to thole that for most of his life. His approach to it was to face it full on. His personality made it impossible for him to duck issues. And so there were difficult times. But there are many, inside the Church and outside who will remember his friendship, his loyalty and his kindness on a pastoral and supportive level. His memory will live long among us.

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