Many, many people across the country – including non-church people – are hugely missing the Reverend John Cook, a unique parish minister and good family builder who died of cancer on Sunday 11 April.
John’s first ministry was with me in the 1960s at the church extension charge of Menzieshill, Dundee, there to undertake his two-year stint as a new member of the Iona Community; and he chose to stay for three years.
He had arrived with an Edinburgh MA and the then classic (voluntary) BD, with all its Greek and Hebrew swotting behind him, and had also spent a year labouring on the roads.
The pocket of John’s donkey jacket was torn, but there’s no way he was going to let my wife sew it for him. He insisted on finding his own digs in Lochee and spent his Saturday nights with working-class men in the local pub (then men-only).
To fulfil our Community Members’ commitment to set aside half-an-hour a day, John decided to come up to the manse after lunch daily and start helping me with the dishes.
“Hard-of-hearing” – as he put it – from birth, the Blairhall Colliery accent of his mother remained intact, and the first people he visited in the newly built multi-storey flats telephoned the manse to check if this really was a Minister.
In one of his first sermons, he said that we all had to get off our backsides and get out there in the world among other people. In what we called the New Jerusalem, “the common people” heard him gladly, as they had heard our Master in Palestine (Mark 12:37).
And they recognised John’s genuine loving care, too.
When the Congregational Board realised that the architect’s “generous” storage space was not enough for us and we would have to dig further under the main hall, John turned up the next evening with a member of the congregation, picks and shovels, and started the digging.
That John was blessed with more than brains and the common touch became particularly clear when he revealed his engagement to be married – and the love of his life, student teacher Isobel from Kinlochleven in the Scottish Highlands, reciprocated in full measure.
In 1968, John was called to be a parish minister in troubled Easterhouse in Glasgow. In no time at all, the ever active Protestant “Ecumaniac” became known by all and sundry as “Faither” or else “Wee John”.
When Graeme Brown, newly elected Leader of The Iona Community, joined the Easterhouse congregation, his sense of public worship was transformed by John”s first words from the pulpit on Sunday morning: “Right! We need a plumber...” A hand went up immediately. No traditional formality, “no airs and graces” here!
Congregation member Ron Ferguson tells how his visiting parents-in-law from Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire were taken aback – and made to think? – when the Biblical personage of Joseph was described from the pulpit as “a bawheid and a nyaff”!
In 1984, 16 years after John’s induction to Easterhouse, he, Isobel and sons Allan and William, moved to Leith. I had been enormously pleased when a member of the Vacancy Committee at our neighbouring church had phoned me in South Leith to ask what kind of minister John Cook was. And the people of Leith – within the congregation and without – were to benefit for 21 years from a wholly committed ministry of love and effective evangelism.
Iain MacDonald of Westray and Papa Westray cannot forget first meeting John when a student in a”fairly well-heeled” youth fellowship in Glasgow, and John – the speaker – was “fantastic, bursting with vision, passion, energy and a great deal of humour… inspirational.”
Some years later, Iain had “a very enjoyable student attachment at Leith St Andrews, where John helped greatly in de-learning some of the New College excess and showing how to do it sleeves rolled-up”.
The most important, and still helpful, words that I myself heard from John come from the televised lecture he was invited to make from Glasgow in the 16th-century Magdalen Chapel of Edinburgh’s Cowgate:
"A man or a woman with a vision and no task
Is a dreamer.
A man or a woman with a task and no vision
Is a drudge.
A man or a woman with a vision and a task
Is a prophet.”
And now, for the future? Well, John himself is released and raised by the ultimate Faither, while God will keep blessing Isobel, Allan, William and the young family – as He will others through them. Hallelujah!
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