Obituary: Rev Elizabeth Kinniburgh, one of first women to be ordained as a Church of Scotland minister

Rev Elizabeth (Betty) Baxter Forbes, Church of Scotland minister and teacher. Born in Greenock 1929. Died 23 October, 2016, aged 87.

Rev Elizabeth (Betty) Baxter Forbes Kinniburgh
Rev Elizabeth (Betty) Baxter Forbes Kinniburgh

Rev Elizabeth (Betty) Baxter Forbes Kinniburgh, MA, BD, Dip.Ed, who died peacefully on Sunday, 23 October aged 87 years, was one of the remarkable women at the forefront of sweeping changes in the Church of Scotland in the 1960s. Her intellect and ability saw Betty among the first women to take advantage of the changes to Church law which allowed them an increased role, especially following the General Assembly in 1968 which allowed women to become ordained as minister of word and sacrament. Her own ministry was cut short in 1986 when she suffered a severe stroke.

Born in Greenock, she preferred the name Betty as less formal than Elizabeth. Her education began at Greenock Academy, before the family moved to Edinburgh during the war. At Trinity Academy she was a brilliant scholar, before achieving a Master of Arts degree at Edinburgh University followed by a Diploma in Education at Moray House.

A qualified school teacher, she took up a post at the small Aberlady Public School in East Lothian, where as Infant Mistress rural children from the estate were treated just the same as the very young members of the gentry.

After her school work was finished, she travelled back to Edinburgh and attended classes in Biblical Studies at the university conducted by the Rev David Stalker who became a great friend.

Betty gave up her teaching job to enrol in a Bachelor of Divinity (BD) course at New College of Edinburgh University. Here, once again, she was an excellent student. In classes where she was the only woman she was well supported by her male colleagues, one of whom dubbed her “the clever one”.

Betty went on to do post-graduate research in Cambridge and returned to Scotland to join the staff at the University of St Andrews.

Former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Very Rev Dr Findlay MacDonald, remembers Betty very fondly as an excellent tutor, where she would often take her classes outside in the summer to continue teaching Greek in the gardens of St Mary’s College. Dr MacDonald also recalls Betty assisting the minister at St Paul’s in Dundee, where he and his wife were married.

It was following her move to Dundee, where she lectured in Religious Education at the city’s College of Education, that she became among the first women in Scotland to gain her licence to preach in 1969. This was followed by her ordination to the ministry in the city in 1970.

Betty played a full and enthusiastic role in the new opportunities for women to participate in the administration of the church. She served on committees, spoke on the floor of the General Assembly and accepted an invitation to take part in the Woman of the Year event in London.

She was accepted as minister to the parish of Birse in Aberdeenshire in 1979, which was later linked with Finzean and Strachan in 1983. She was acting as Moderator of the Presbytery, as well as running three kirk sessions and three Sunday schools, when she suffered a severe stroke in 1986 which left her in a coma for six weeks.

Betty’s recovery was only partial – she had no speech and her right side was paralysed. She retired from ministry to a small house in Aboyne, which she shared with her beloved Labrador, Penny. In her later years, Betty enjoyed the love and companionship of her brother Ian and her large extended family. She was latterly cared for at the Allachburn care home in Aboyne, where she remained an avid reader. One of the many books left at her bedside was entitled How to be a Dog.