Born: 8 October, 1922, in Leeds. Died: 6 August, 2009, in Edinburgh, aged 86.
JOHN Paterson had been ordained for less than 20 years when he was elected moderator of the Church of Scotland's General Assembly in 1984 – almost certainly the shortest-serving minister to occupy the chair.
Within minutes of assuming office he had to chair a tense debate on whether or not James Nelson, convicted of murdering his mother, should be allowed to be broadcast or whether, as Rev Bill Johnston of Colinton (a member of the BBC's Broadcasting Council for Scotland) put it: "Journalists with pens and notebooks were to be allowed to do report, but those with microphones and cameras were not."
It was decided to exclude the microphones and cameras from a debate which the assembly later described as being handled with great responsibility, in no small measure due to the manner in which it was led.
John Paterson was born in Leeds and educated at Hillhead High School in Glasgow. He was a fighter pilot with the RAF during the Second World War, and after demobilisation he qualified in insurance, and business took him to east Africa. He was present in 1958 when David Steel, who was to become moderator ten years before Paterson, preached his last sermon as minister of St Andrew's, Nairobi. Sensing then how vital the ministry was to Steel, Paterson began to feel the call to the ministry himself. He returned to Scotland and took degrees in arts and divinity at Edinburgh University while also acting as student assistant at St Cuthbert's in the city under Dr Leonard Small.
In 1964 he was inducted to St John's Church in Bathgate, and in 1970 moved to be minister of St Paul's Church in the affluent area of Milngavie outside Glasgow. He was to stay there for 17 years.
Paterson's business background made him a natural choice to be asked to be involved in the Church's financial affairs. He was convener of the General Assembly's board of stewardship and finance at a difficult time, when high inflation and escalating oil prices made huge demands on congregational finances, threatening contributions to the central funds of the Church.
If Paterson's insistence on financial prudence and the grave tone of the reports he presented to the General Assembly gave the impression of hardness and inflexibility, they were in marked contrast to his personal charm and sense of humour, reflecting more how seriously he saw the need for the Church to change. He won the Church's admiration and confidence.
Paterson became convener of the Assembly Council, set up to instigate change within the Church, and it was thought he would serve a full term in this role before allowing himself to be considered for moderator. However, the reception of his nomination reflected his qualities and popularity. Addressing the assembly for the first time as moderator in 1984 he said he was there as "an ordinary parish minister, engaged like all other ordinary parish ministers in the privilege of preaching week by week, celebrating the sacraments and undertaking the daily round which goes on from a thousand manses up and down the land".
His moderatorial year was described as one of encouragement and challenge, which had left the Church with a wider vision and a new heart. During it, he took part in the historic gathering of all the Scottish Church leaders at Pentecost on the island of Iona, and he took the opportunity to return to Kenya to visit the Presbyterian Church of East Africa.
In 1986, Paterson was appointed convener of a special commission set up to examine the ethics of investment and banking. The commission endorsed the work of the country's financial community, in particular, commending ethically managed unit trusts. Among its other recommendations two years later were that the government should ensure that making adequate provision for education and healthcare was as significant as financial investment; that credit unions should be encouraged; and that while apartheid continued, people should refrain from investing where substantial profits came from South Africa. The commission also recommended writing off government-to-government debt to reduce the burden of repayment by third-world countries.
Paterson received a doctorate of divinity from Aberdeen University in 1986 and retired from St Paul's Milngavie the following year and moved to Edinburgh, where he became a member of St Giles' Cathedral. He was someone of considerable graciousness, whose pastoral attentiveness, considerable energy and unequivocal belief in the parish ministry benefited not only his two congregations but the Church at large. He is survived by his wife, Jill, whom he married in 1946 and his children, Elizabeth, Michael and Blair.