The Very Reverend Dr John McIndoe, a former Moderator of the General Assembly, was born in Sunderland in 1934 where his father worked as a tax inspector. He underwent his early schooling there and remained proud of his Wearside roots. Childhood memories of the war were seared into his mind – the industrial sector of Sunderland suffered heavy bombing, and he often recalled spending nights in an Anderson air-shelter with his parents and their neighbours.
When he was ten, the McIndoe family moved to Kilcreggan on the Firth of Clyde. McIndoe attended Greenock Academy where he excelled at Classics which became his chosen field of study at Glasgow University, where he matriculated in 1952. This was the beginning of a happy and lifelong relationship with the institution – he graduated MA and BD in the 1950s, and upon his retirement in 2000 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity. So he became a triple graduate of his alma mater and was proud that his three daughters also studied there.
A crafter of words, McIndoe was also a skilled mimic, a talent that he did not often display publicly. As a divinity student, he apparently caused much amusement at his capacity to imitate the teaching staff. Indeed, he was reckoned to sound more like Principal Mauchline than Mauchline himself. In later years, his ad hoc impersonations would entertain at family mealtimes whether it was politicians, relatives, football managers, colourful characters in his congregation, or even an undertaker dealing with the mourners.
After graduating BD with distinction, McIndoe spent a year in the USA in 1959/60, taking a Masters degree at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. This was a formative experience in broadening his intellectual and cultural horizons.
He married Eve Johnstone in 1960 while he served as an assistant at Paisley Abbey under Dr Bill Rogan and he was inducted to Park Church, Dundee, in 1963.
Dundee was new territory for him, but he relished his ministry there. His work appears to have been particularly marked by successful work amongst a large group of younger people in the congregation, many of whom became lifelong friends.
In 1972 McIndoe was called to Lanark St Nicholas, a large congregation in the historic town centre. His time in Lanark was marked by close involvement in the civic life of the community, especially the annual Lanimer festivities, and the establishment of new initiatives including a midweek morning service, youth activities, the extension of the church halls, the ordination of the first women elders, and an exchange with an American colleague in Maryland.
His Lanark years were also marked by one of the major challenges of his professional life when he was appointed Convener of the Church and Nation Committee in 1980. Serving for four years, he presented reports to the General Assembly which generated some tension between the Church of Scotland and the Thatcher government. Amidst numerous industrial closures – Ravenscraig, Scott Lithgow, Anderson Strathclyde, and Invergordon – he had the task of making the case for social and economic justice without encroaching too far upon party politics. With the Scottish Parliament still almost two decades away, the General Assembly was the one forum in Scotland where political issues were discussed by a broad-spectrum national body. Heated debates at the General Assembly attracted much TV and press attention and McIndoe’s capacity to master his brief and to command the chamber was highly impressive. His “calm persuasive manner” was praised in the appreciation appended by colleagues to his final report in 1984.
In 1988, McIndoe was called to St Columba’s in Pont Street, London, linked with Newcastle St Andrews, as successor to Fraser McCluskey. A large congregation with a strong ex-pat presence, London provided new opportunities and challenges which he welcomed. Ministry in London often involved travelling long distances for pastoral visits and funerals. In this, he was well supported by a gifted team of associates and assistants, Sandy Cairns being a constant colleague throughout his ministry there.
A landmark of his London years was his appointment as Moderator of the General Assembly in 1996. This involved a year based in Edinburgh with extensive travel across Scotland and overseas. He and his wife Eve rose to the challenge and enjoyed a busy but stimulating 12 months in office. The Princess Royal was Lord High Commissioner and McIndoe commended her not only for singing Flower of Scotland at Murrayfield but actually knowing all the words.
Two events stand out. One was the trip to South Africa which was emerging from the apartheid era; it was the first trip by a Moderator since sanctions had been imposed. He preached around the country and met Desmond Tutu who left a deep impression on him. A second stand-out was the return of the Stone of Destiny to Scotland. At the ceremony in Edinburgh Castle, he delivered the address, speaking of its symbolic relevance in binding the nation together in pursuit of the common good. The text of his address is now held in Edinburgh University Library. He said: “The recovery of this ancient symbol of the Stone cannot but strengthen the proud distinctiveness of the people of Scotland… It will in addition bear a silent and steady witness to the mutuality of interest between those who govern and those who are governed, united in the task of promoting the welfare of the land and the destination of its people.”
By nature and by grace, John McIndoe’s life was well lived at each successive stage as a son, a husband, a father, a grandfather and great-grandfather, a friend and companion, and as a wise pastor and preacher for over 40 years.
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