Very Rev Andrew Herron

Born: 29 September, 1909, in Glasgow

Died: 27 February, 2003, in Giffnock, aged 93

WITH the death of Andrew Herron, the Church of Scotland has lost not only one of its most colourful characters but one of its most gifted.

He was born in Glasgow, and that city provided his upbringing and education and in the process put its unmistakable stamp on a personality that warmed naturally to its plain speaking and pawky humour.

By way of Strathbungo Higher Grade School and Albert Road Academy, he progressed to Glasgow University, where he was a prize-winning graduate in both Arts and Divinity. Ordained in 1934 as assistant minister in Springburn, he was inducted to the charge of Linwood in 1936. From there he accepted a call in 1940 to Houston and Killellan, where he was to remain until he moved to the Presbytery of Glasgow, becoming its full-time clerk in 1960. A master of the many skills which that post required, he particularly excelled in his role as the ministers’ pastor. He retired in 1981.

To all that he did, he brought precision of thought and clarity of mind. His ability to identify the central points in any argument and then to state them concisely and with humour served him well whether in Presbytery or General Assembly or, no less importantly, in meetings with planning officers.

While at Houston, he had studied part-time for a law degree to enable him to help his parishioners resist plans to turn their area into a New Town. His newly acquired professional expertise coupled to his unyielding tenacity helped them win the day. Planners who sought to drive the M8 through whole swathes of Glasgow’s inner city found him no less successful as he engineered the buying and selling of churches so that the Church of Scotland could have its plant sited where people actually lived.

The Church of Scotland has known not a few lawyers who have become ministers, not all of whom have been able to shake off their legalistic mindset. He was a minister first and last who, to aid his ministry, became expert in the law. The difference was plain to see. For Andrew, the Gospel always came first and mattered most. He enjoyed preaching almost as much as congregations enjoyed his clear, down-to-earth style. He knew exactly how to introduce the lighter touch so that it enlivened, but never detracted from, the message.

The Church nationally was quick to recognise his abilities. Convener of the Department of Publicity and Publications and then of the Assembly’s General Administration and Business Committees, he became Moderator of the General Assembly in 1971. Beyond the Church, many honours came his way - Doctor of Laws from Strathclyde University, Doctor of Divinity from both St Andrews and Glasgow Universities.

The award from Glasgow was particularly pleasing. It had seemed that he might not be so honoured on account, it was said, of his unyielding public defence of a student who he believed had been unjustly treated by that university.

He wrote a considerable number of very readable books, many of them of enduring practical help to ministers and Kirk members alike. His guides to the General Assembly, to ministry and the like, though dated in parts, are still valuable. His major work on The Law and Practice of the Kirk met a need for many and in part made up for his disappointment that he had not been appointed to rewrite Cox, the official manual on Church law.

His most unremitting literary labours, however, lay in his editing of the Church of Scotland Year Book from 1962 until 1992. The work involved was considerable, not least because his years pre-dated the computer and relied on what he fondly referred to as "hot metal".

A Moderator has inevitably many items of luggage to carry round on his various journeys and he insisted on taking with him everywhere the voluminous developing text of the next Year Book. He loved this work and by and large the Church appreciated what he did. Occasionally, he used his summary of the preceding Assembly not merely to report decisions but to air his own distinctive views. If some Establishment figures were at times discomfited, they could hardly feign surprise as in the Assembly he was always an independent mind, his own man, beholden to no party or group.

There were, for example, some committees which he valued more than others and he did not always disguise this fact. In one Year Book, he wrote: "I have always maintained that the courts of the church are heard at their best when they are discussing issues that are properly their own business. To that extent, perhaps, it was good that Church and Nation should be delayed by a theological debate."

He was fully in support of local churches working together, but felt little warmth towards the orchestrated manoeuvres of the ecumenical movement: he may not have been the first to coin the disparaging phrase "ecclesiastical joinery", but he had a fondness for it. He did not oppose all change, but did need persuading that what was to replace the known was demonstrably an improvement, a challenge which few relished.

He felt a weary disillusionment with the succession of new visionary committees, commissions and councils. They seemed to him consistently to do one of two things - to re-invent yet again that distinctively ecclesiastical wheel which had mastered the art of ever faster rotation without the distraction of any forward movement, or to produce as startlingly new something that an earlier commission had discarded as irredeemably worn out. The findings of one such body he branded "a not very magic roundabout".

Very precious, indeed inspirational, to him were his wife, Queenie, and their four daughters. Queenie was both complement and foil to Andrew and he never fully regained his old sparkle when she predeceased him.

Published to mark his 90th birthday, Kirk Lore offered his engaging snapshots of some of the distinctive aspects of Scottish Church life. Any second edition must surely contain a chapter on Andrew himself for he was truly a one-off, a unique product of the Presbyterian tradition he so staunchly upheld, an outstanding minister of the Gospel whom it has been a privilege to know.