Obituary: The Rev Colin Morton, minister

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Clergyman, Labour councillor and an active supporter of the Palestinian people

The Rev Colin Morton, minister.

Born: 21 June, 1933, in China.

Died: 16 June, 2011, in Edinburgh, aged 77.

THE Reverend Colin Morton, who has died aged 77 was the Church of Scotland's leading apologist for the Palestinian people and fought a 23-year campaign on their behalf.

This work was delivered at all levels from lobbying senior politicians to activating trade links between crafts people and retail outlets and he became both revered and loved by many, and considerably feared by his political enemies for his quiet yet effective style of debate.

Colin Morton was born in China in 1933 to Ralph and Jenny Morton, two missionaries known for their intellectual rigour and their radical approach to missionary work.

After his parents' return to Cambridge, where Ralph taught, they moved to Glasgow where Ralph became the deputy leader of the Iona Community, a left-wing organisation whose mainland base was in a multi-storey community centre in Glasgow's busy Clyde Street.

This was no ordinary community centre and was highly influential on Colin's later life. At its ground floor was a restaurant where several hundred low-cost meals were served each day (it was located yards from a frantic bus depot) and upstairs Jenny helped establish a library and meeting rooms where politicians such as Donald Dewar, John Smith and Jimmy Reid could often be found debating with trade union bosses and young ministers.

A role call of the achievements the children of the mangers of "Community House" gives some sense of how it acted as a nursery for political talent.

Peter Dowding went on to became premier of Western Australia, Douglas Alexander a cabinet minister, Hugh Morton a law Lord, Wendy Alexander a Labour leader and George Morton a Labour whip in the House of Commons.

It was little wonder that Colin learned some astute political skills. After an education at Fettes, Peterhouse Cambridge (where he graduated in economics) he went first on National Service to Africa and then to Edinburgh's New College, where he was ordained. In 1961 he added a powerful weapon to his arsenal by marrying a feisty young American academic called Carol who was to become his foil, business partner and, above all, else his lifelong beloved.

Joining the Iona Community in 1959 (he was a member for 56 years and held a number of key roles in its administration) his first charge was Linwood, then a small town that was soon to rapidly expand into the headquarters of the Scottish motor industry. Colin and Carol were both soon in the thick of it, bringing up four children as he ran a busy parish and became involved in everything from trade union politics to playing pretty awful golf, brewing even worse beer and playing seemingly interminable hands of patience as he wrote his Sunday sermons.In 1973 the family moved to a parish at Prestonpans where he was to serve as both parish minister and, for three terms, as a Labour councillor on Lothian Region before moving in 1988 to what might be regarded as his seminal appointment as the Kirk's representative in Jerusalem. Here he was based in the St Andrew's Centre, a large building that often flies the saltire from its highly visible position on a hill overlooking the centre of Jerusalem. Although he was already suspicious of some of the political actions of the Israelis he resolved on arrival to spend a year "smoking my pipe and listening", before becoming actively involved in the snake pit of Middle East politics.

This was wise as during his first year he was to become friendly with many Israelis, including the country's president.

Colin Morton's ministry in Jerusalem is perhaps best characterised by his long chairmanship of the Western YMCA, a role he undertook for almost all of his nine years in the city.

The building is in one of the smartest parts of the Jewish area of Jerusalem and one of its aims is to bring together Muslims, Christians and Jews. Such work provided the perfect forum for him to establish his credibility as a caring pastor for all, before revealing the depth of his anger at the Palestinian situation.

As the son of thinking missionaries and now in a cultural melting pot he defined his position as being to work against injustice against all rather than simply to further the Christian position, and he was quick to make his conclusions public.

"How can we blame the Palestinians for being mildly aggressive if the Israelis constantly flout international law?" he would ask gently, patiently waiting for an answer, before adding: "We consider it morally justifiable to be aggressive to lawbreakers in our domestic community but condemn them for doing so on the international stage where the crimes are infinitely worse."

Always more inclined to quietly do rather than loudly preach he and Carol went on to convert a disused lavatory in the centre's guest house into the headquarters of a trading scheme in which Palestinian craft workers would sell their wares to retail outlets throughout Britain.

This work saw him going into difficult areas of the West Bank where he would buy directly from crafts people, often ministering as he went to women whose husbands had either been killed or imprisoned.

On returning to Britain in 1997 he continued this trading work and he become increasingly radical in his political views on Palestine.

His opinions were far from universally popular in the Kirk, but he never faltered and even when in his late 70s he was still involved each day in supporting the Palestinian shop at St George's west that he and Carol had been instrumental in establishing and where his funeral will take place on 25 of June at 11.30am.

He is survived by his wife, four children and seven grandchildren.