rev susan brown

FOR some curious reason, it seems entirely appropriate that the Rev Susan Brown, the Church of Scotland minister who will perform the nuptials for Madge and her man, is something of a dab hand at the exorcism game.

Last year she gave it the full ''out,

demons, out'' routine in a house in Tain, Easter Ross, at the request of a couple whose two-year-old daughter kept seeing ghostly apparitions.

Now, we are not suggesting that, midway through Friday's wedding service, the bride's head will start revolving and that green bile and curses will pour from her mouth. Madonna has been possessed by many a persona over the years but the Linda Blair look is not one of them.

No. It is more that, with the prospect before her of an abominable army of Satan-sent scribblers, snappers, and pushy tele-vision crews descending in a pincer movement upon her rural parish, Mrs Brown may well feel the need to brush up on her exorcist skills as she prepares for a marriage ceremony which is so eagerly anticipated you could be forgiven for

thinking that Skibo Castle was hosting the Messiah's second coming.

When the devil's detail hits the ground running in Dornoch, Susan Brown will have to find the maturity, the strength, and (most important of all) the humour to handle it. Even the hardiest of ministers often find themselves relegated to walk-on parts in some blushing bride's mother's B-movie. And the danger is that, if she's not careful, it could turn out like that for Mrs Brown. Only it won't be a mother who'll be

attempting to rule the roost; it'll be the mother of all media circuses. And not just that. She also may have to face the often ludicrous and impossible demands of the bride's huge entourage of personal assistants, security staff, and general hangers-on.

Still, if any Presbyterian minister can cope with such a bizarre and incongruous scenario, then surely it must be Susan Brown. She is no stranger, after all, to the power of image and the potency of pub-

licity. Was it not she who once Rollerbladed down the aisle of her kirk to the astonishment of her flock? Did she not wrap 600 pupils at Dingwall Academy in rolls of

toilet paper to show that God's love is soft, strong, and gentle?

Then there was the notorious incident which led to her being falsely accused of a wanton act of vandalism. In April this year a passing tourist entered Dornoch Cathedral and found, to her dismay, that someone had overturned a table and scattered coins upon the floor.

She immediately alerted the local constabulary who, upon investigation, discovered that the culprit was Mrs Brown

herself. The ''damage'' was the result of her dramatic illustration of what Jesus did to show his displeasure at the moneylenders in the temple.

Susan Brown is certainly not the type of person to be overawed by the experience of a celebrity wedding. Madonna may be the queen of pop, but so what? It is, in a way, a good minister's job to treat everyone like royalty - whether they be a princess or a

pauper. And Mrs Brown is a good minister.

Born the daughter of a coal miner, in Penicuik, Midlothian, some 41 years

ago, she met her husband, Derek, the

chaplain at Raigmore Hospital, Inver-

ness, while they were both students. The couple have two children; Simon, aged 13, and Hannah, 10.

Her career highlights include a stint as assistant at St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh, and a 12-year spell as minister at Killearnan Parish Church in the Black Isle. She was

not only the first female minister in Ross-shire but also the first woman moderator of the county's presbytery.

At a time when kirk numbers were dwindling, the Rev Brown managed to buck the trend by getting bums on pews and

trebling her congregation to a healthy 150 members. Her first serious brush with publicity came in 1997 when she was invited to take over as minister at Dornoch, becoming the first woman ever to take charge of a cathedral.

At the time she attempted to play down the importance of her appointment to the cause of women in the ministry. ''It has

not entered my thinking at all. I look on it simply as a new change along my path in the ministry. I am not an ardent feminist;

I believe that God can use anyone and some people he uses happen to be female,'' she said.

''It was a real surprise to be chosen. I thought they were just looking for the

statutory woman candidate on the short list,'' she added.

It is fair to assume that Susan Brown's appointment to Dornoch Cathedral, one of the leading and most influential posts in the Church of Scotland, was not a simple and straightforward matter. The kirk is, after all, still very much a male-dominated world.

The lady didn't get to where she is today without having to deal with a degree of

prejudice. Though the Presbyterian church has had women ministers in Scotland for

30 years, there remains an unreconstructed

element within it which tenaciously holds on to the belief that the kirk's leadership should be a female-free zone.

But Mrs Brown is, by all accounts, a very fine minister whose achievements have silenced her critics. She is a first-class preacher and an excellent communicator; a woman who has that rare ability of being able to relate to people of all ages.

With her it is as well to expect the unexpected. That way, you will not be disappointed. It is rumoured that when Madonna first asked her to conduct the wedding, she took a straw poll of her kirk elders to establish just how many actually knew who Madonna was. Most of them failed the test, apparently.

The woman, aka Holy Spice to the kids in her congregation, has an informal and friendly approach to life and work. Disarmingly down-to-earth, she is as often seen in T-shirt and jeans as she is in clerical vestments.

''Unconventional'' is a word which is often used when describing Mrs Brown. However, ''modern'' would be more appropriate. She has a rare talent for a minister in that she invariably presents her congregation with a weekly sermon which is

both interesting and relevant. A couple of years ago, in a bid to get God on the

side of Dornoch's vitally important tourist trade, she held a service of dedication in

the 700-year-old cathedral to launch the holiday season.

In the cathedral last Sunday, Mrs Brown opened her sermon by confirming that it was The Herald that first broke the story. ''The speculation was over and soon the

visitors began to make the long journey to find out for themselves if it was true. And it was true, the long-awaited Messiah was indeed coming!''

Then, with a brief pause for dramatic effect, she added: ''Well, who else did you think I was talking about? The herald I am referring to was John the Baptist.''

Ministers such as her - vibrant, intelligent, humorous, and in touch with the real world - are worth their weight in gold

and could perhaps represent the future for the Church in Scotland. Not for her the

traditionally dour, thundering, Bible-

bashing style of old. Yet, mercifully, not the happy-clappy, wooly-jumper, guitar-strumming style either.

So where to now for the ebullient Mrs Brown? How do you follow next Friday's starring role in the showbiz wedding of the year? Well, a lie down in a darkened room will probably be the first thing on the agenda.

But, in the longer term, who knows what lies in store? She might be perfectly content to carry on ministering to the congregation at Dornoch. On the other hand, there are other Church of Scotland cathedrals such as Glasgow and St Giles' in Edinburgh, both of which could probably benefit some day from having a woman in charge. And, then again, she might simply want to return

eventually to a quiet rural parish.

The General Assembly of the Church

of Scotland has never had a female

moderator. Assuming that it must inevitably happen sooner or later, could Susan Brown be the one?