Rev Normal McPherson; popular minister of the Augustine Bristo-Congregational Church in Edinburgh

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Born: 22 December, 1912 in London. Died: 22 March, 2012, aged 99.

Those who knew Rev Norman McPherson as minister of Augustine Bristo-Congregational Church on George IV Bridge will have known of his keen interest in the army and, in those days in the Army Cadet Force. He never missed their annual camp. They may not have known, however, of his distinguished war service because, like many of those who returned bearing the scars of war, he was reluctant to talk of it.

In 1939, just as he started a lay ministry in a Dublin Congregational Church, he volunteered to go to France with the British Expeditionary Force under the auspices of a men’s organisation he had been involved with for many years, Toc H, founded by Rev Philip (Tubby) Clayton during the First World War to provide leisure activities for those on active duty, but in the inter-war years had become a network of clubs across the country contributing to local communities.

In 1940 he was among those who could not reach Dunkirk and, after enduring considerable difficulties (including being put against a wall by French civilian who thought he was a German spy), he finally reached the French coast at St Nazaire. When he was leaving port, the two other ships in the group were sunk.

Only when he returned to England did his family know he had survived. For the latter part of the war he worked in Lincolnshire with undercover forces, making contingency plans for any German invasion, while continuing to serve Toc H.

On demobilisation he returned to York Street Congregational Church in Dublin and completed part-time studies for the ministry in Belfast and was ordained in Dublin in 1946. As well as the more formal training, he chose to spend a couple of years on the road to experience what it was like for people who had nothing. He had no money, lived on charity and slept in barns and in the workhouse. On another occasion he spent a month on a Grimsby trawler to give him a better understanding of the deckhands who used the Missions to Seamen.

It was while in Lincoln that he joined the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department as a Territorial Army Chaplain, initially with the Lincolns and later with the Yorkshire Yeomanry, and was to be awarded the Territorial Decoration (TD). He became minister of Victoria Avenue Congregational Church in Harrogate in 1955, moving to Lord Street Church in Southport in 19645. He chaired the Yorkshire Congregational Union in 1963-64.

In 1970 McPherson began a short ministry in Bridgeton in Glasgow before being called to Augustine Bristo Church on George IV Bridge, where he exercised a strong ministry for ten years. He is remembered there as a very conscientious, caring minister who was highly respected. He was always well prepared, and addressed not only the need for strong commitment to the Christian faith but also for the expression of the intellectual arguments for it.

He was born in London. His father was a world-class fencer and a professional international swordsman, who went to the USA after the First World War. His grandfather had been a railwayman in Moray, who had a career in the Household Cavalry before establishing a family fencing school and gymnasium for court circles. He retired from Augustine Bristo Church in 1983, and was invited by Very Rev Gilleasbuig Macmillan to join him in St Giles’ Cathedral as senior assistant minister. There he not only undertook pastoral duties but became involved in the training of the younger assistants in the cathedral.

Dr Macmillan describes him as “a dear and delightful friend”. He singles out for particular mention his involvement each Holy Week in reading the Gospel account of the last hours of Jesus’ life “with dignity and beauty, a voice and rhythm just right for the old Bible”.

Dr Macmillan adds that McPherson had a lively sense of humour, and while “he may have looked like a traditional minister, and was, he was fully in touch with the contemporary world and possessed and ageless understanding of people”.

Norman McPherson enjoyed fishing. He loved his garden. His wife Margaret, whom he married in 1936, died in 2000. He is survived by his three sons, Ian, Andrew and Stuart, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Johnston McKay