Rev James Matheson

Moderator and parish minister

Born: 1 March, 1912, in Caithness.

Died: 28 October, 2007, on Skye, aged 95.

JAMES Matheson DD was for many years a leading figure in the Church of Scotland. He gave distinguished service as a minister in three parishes and served as a senior administrator at 121 George Street - the Church's offices in Edinburgh. Matheson was Moderator in 1975. Throughout his ministry, and especially when Moderator, he was keen to build bridges with those of other faiths and had a warm friendship with Thomas Winning, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow.

His experiences as a prisoner of war left a lasting impression and he devoted much of his ministry to helping the deprived and those less fortunate.

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The Rev Howard Haslett, minister at Traprain by Haddington, remembers Matheson's year as Moderator with particular pleasure. "As a student I attended lectures given by James at Edinburgh University - they were always stimulating and thought-provoking," he said.

"He believed in a relaxed and genial contact with his congregation and that was evidenced in his year as Moderator: he brought to the office a spiritual and courteous style.

"James was a devoted scholar, a man of much sincerity and a fine pastor."

James Gunn Matheson was the son of a Free Church of Scotland minister. After attending Inverness Royal Academy, he read arts and divinity at Edinburgh University. His first charge was at Olrig, back in his native Caithness.

He then served as an army chaplain in north Africa and was captured at Tobruk. He was incarcerated as a POW in Italy, where he quickly learned Italian and acted as a liaison officer between the Italian authorities and the prisoners.

After the war, Matheson was repatriated and returned to his career. In 1946 he was appointed to St Columba's Parish Church in Blackhall, Edinburgh. In 1951 he travelled to New Zealand and accepted a post at Knox Church in Dunedin, where his warm personality and generous nature attracted many young people to the church.

His son, Peter, remembers the time as a particularly happy one. He said: "My dad was very much a people person. As a man he was an interesting mixture but he had great lucidity as a preacher and huge pastoral skills: the folk in Dunedin admired him - especially his passion for social justice. I grew up with the Bible in one hand and the New Statesman in the other."

Matheson returned to Edinburgh in 1961 to become the first secretary of the Church of Scotland's stewardship and budget committee. His personality and prudent judgment were well suited to the task of advancing Christian stewardship and he proved an excellent custodian of the finances, bringing a down-to-earth and reasoned approach to their management.

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In 1973 Matheson was appointed to the delightful parish church at Portree and within the year he was appointed Moderator for the year of 1975-6. It was an appointment that was richly deserved and acclaimed at all levels in the Church.

He furthered the causes - stewardship, Christian fellowship and concern for others - that he had pursued throughout his ministry.

The Rev Haslett, who spent many years as the minister attached to the Edinburgh Academy, asked Matheson to preach to the school when he was Moderator.

He said: "James delivered a sermon that was humorous, involving and spiritually uplifting ... He had the knack of provoking thought in everyone.

"He invited me to preach in that lovely Kirk in Portree and I immediately noticed the warmth and affection for him from the entire congregation.

"He was a wonderful communicator and a much loved minister. He was a grand man."

Matheson retired from Portree in 1979 but continued to tend his garden in Totaig by Dunvegan for the rest of his life. He was also a devoted angler and knew, and often fished, the trout rivers of Skye.

He published two books, Do You Believe This? and Saints and Sinners - early in his career. He also contributed many articles to learned theological periodicals and was made an honorary doctor of divinity at Edinburgh in 1975.

Matheson married Janet Clarkson in 1937. She and a daughter pre-deceased him and he is survived by three sons and a daughter.

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