Former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland; Born March 1, 1912; Died October 28, 2007.

JAMES Matheson, who has died at the age of 95, was Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1975 when Archbishop (as he then was) Thomas Winning of Glasgow accepted an invitation to address the assembly.

Winning's theme was that of two brothers who had not spoken for 400 years, and he ended by saying that he realised the claims of the Roman Catholic Church were "a stumbling block to other churches" but "we are fully committed to working with you and the other Christian churches towards unity".

In his response, Matheson caught the mood of the assembly, which had warmed to Winning. Quoting the words of John Wesley, he said, to loud applause (in which Winning enthusiastically joined): "I don't say come to my side nor draw me to thine. But if my heart is now thy heart in the love of Christ, then give me thy hand."

Winning's biographer records that the archbishop "had taken an instant liking to Matheson, whom he regarded as straight-talking and sincere" and that as a result ecumenism became more of a priority for Winning than it had been.

Shortly afterwards Winning invited Matheson, during his moderatorial year, to speak to his Glasgow council of priests and lay people. Despite the presence of demonstrators led by Pastor Jack Glass condemning him as "Mass Mongerer Matheson", the moderator told his audience, doubtless to their discomfort: "If we are to have one Christian people instead of two, then we must bring up our children together, not apart."

Matheson had a career which crossed ecclesiastical divides and spanned the globe. He was the son of a minister of the Free Church of Scotland and, after degrees in arts and divinity from the University of Edinburgh, he went to be the Free Church minister of Olrig in his native Caithness.

Service alongside ministers of the Church of Scotland during the war as an army chaplain persuaded him that someone of his liberal sympathies and generous disposition would be more at home in the national church. When war ended he became minister of Blackhall St Columba's Parish Church in Edinburgh.

In September 1951 he left Scotland for New Zealand to become minister of Knox Church in Dunedin. There he developed an interest in the work of Christian Stewardship and when the Church of Scotland decided to appoint a full-time secretary to promote the work of its newly formed stewardship and budget committee, Matheson returned to Scotland, and guided the committee through its formative years, bringing a spiritual depth to every aspect of what could easily have been seen as hard financial decisions.

His work was recognised by the award of an honorary doctorate of divinity from the University of Edinburgh.

In 1973 he became minister of the parish of Portree, on Skye, succeeding Gilleasbuig Macmillan who had been called to St Giles' Cathedral, and who was to be one of Matheson's closest friends. Matheson had undertaken to learn Gaelic, which was considered a necessary qualification for the ministry in Portree, and on the closing day of the 1975 General Assembly he was unable to take the chair during the final business session because he was sitting his O-level in the subject.

Although he had left his Free Church background, Matheson retained a great deal of its deep spirituality and he had a graciousness which made him widely respected. His was a searching, probing mind, open to theological creativity and radical expression.

He retired in 1979. His wife, Janet Elizabeth, died in 1998, and a daughter in 1974. He is survived by three sons and a daughter. By Johnston McKay