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Maxwell Craig, Minister

Maxwell Craig, who has died aged 77, was convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Nation Committee in the 1980s, one of the most vociferous critics of Margaret Thatcher’s policies and an advocate of the church confronting the government.

Yet, partly because of his background, his family connections and a manner which some called diplomacy and others guile, he was at home in the Kirk’s establishment.

Craig was born in Halifax and educated first in Bradford then Harrow and Oriel College, Oxford.

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He did his national service as a second lieutenant with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and seemed likely to carve out a career as a civil servant. He became an assistant principal in the Ministry of Labour, and then, in 1961, began to train for the ministry of the Church of Scotland at New College in Edinburgh.

He was a member of the Speculative Society, which brings together for discussion and debate influential members of Edinburgh society and students who expect to join them.

Craig graduated as a Bachelor of Divinity with distinction and spent a year at Princeton, where he took a master’s degree in theology. He then returned to Scotland, joined the Iona Community, and spent a probationary year with Rev Jack Orr in the Edinburgh parish of Oxgangs.

In 1966, Craig was called to be minister of Grahamston parish in Falkirk, one of the first areas of ecumenical experiment among the denominations, a theme which was always to be important to him.

His influence beyond his parish began to be noticed when he was invited to be a member of a special committee asked to explore how the right ministers for the future should be chosen and what skills and training they would require.

In January 1973, after the Glasgow congregation of Wellington had experienced a long vacancy following the retirement of Stuart McWilliam, Craig became minister of the imposing church on the city’s University Avenue. Its membership, however, had declined and the sort of “preaching station” which it once was no longer played a part in the Church of Scotland’s life. And, to be fair, Craig was not a charismatic preacher in the mould of his predecessors. But he did encourage the congregation to work and unite later with its neighbour, Woodlands.

He pioneered contacts with and a ministry to the ethnic communities in the parish area, and he established an involvement with university students. It was the sort of ministry which Wellington needed to equip it for a different era. In 1986, he was appointed a Chaplain to the Queen in Scotland.

In 1989, Craig moved to the recently built St Columba’s Church in the growing Bridge of Don area of Aberdeen, where, owing to ill health, the first ministry had lasted only two years.

There was considerable disappointment that Craig stayed less than two years, resigning to become general secretary of Action of Churches Together in Scotland, which had replaced the former Scottish Churches Council. Based at Scottish Churches House in Dunblane, this new body was intended to encourage churches to meet and work together rather than attempt to be a united voice for the them.

When the Dunblane Primary School massacre occurred, Craig became involved in speaking to the press, television and radio, as the parish ministers in and around the town coped with the bereaved.

Craig retired in 1999 and, for a short time, was locum in St Andrews’ Scots Church in Jerusalem. He became chairman of the Scottish Churches Housing Association, and greatly enjoyed singing with his local Stirling Choir, of which he was chairman. He is survived by his wife, Janet, three sons and a daughter.

Born December 25, 1931;

Died September 26, 2009.

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