THE Rev Donald MacRae, for many years Church of Scotland minister at Tarbert, Harris, has died in Stornoway after an illness of some months. He was in his 88th year and in the 63rd of his ministry.

Born in Miavaig in Uig, Lewis, Donald Angus MacRae was reared in the very womb of island evangelicalism and made an early profession of faith in Christ. When he went to Stornoway and its celebrated high school, the Nicolson Institute, he was already a candidate for the Church of Scotland ministry.

His gospel heritage and the lively Uig community bequeathed Mr MacRae a vast fund of anecdotes for future children's addresses - at which duty I have never, in all the denominational round, heard his equal.

Mr MacRae duly completed divinity training and was licensed by the Presbytery of Lewis in April 1942, being ordained and inducted to Sleat, Skye, that October. He subsequently served at Benbecula, from 1949, and, in 1956, the MacRaes removed to Tarbert, Harris, perhaps the most arduous of all the Kirk's "Gaelic Essential" charges.

By now he was blessed with a wife, Annie MacLeod, from Daliburgh, South Uist: sweet as a dove and with the carriage of a duchess, she bore him four children.

It is not widely appreciated that west Highland ministry a half-century ago entailed real hardship. Travel was harder than it is now and, throughout his labours, Mr MacRae had to tend souls across far-flung hamlets and in isolated homesteads, in all weathers and quite frequently on foot.

In Benbecula, the MacRaes enjoyed neither electricity nor piped hot water. Even in 1975, sailing in a launch to the Uist ordination of the Rev Norman Maciver - his eventual successor in North Harris - Mr MacRae and party were stranded for hours on a sandbank.

Tarbert itself was a lively village with a beautiful manse and almost every convenience. But the new field was no sinecure.

For much of his ministry, the Rev Donald A MacRae was expected to keep three services each Sabbath and at least two midweek meetings.

He had, in addition, to preach at least one Sabbath annually at each of the outlying stations - five, 10, or even 20 miles from Tarbert itself; the likes of Amhuinnsuidhe and Meavag and Bunavoneadar, Scadabay and Drinishader, Ardvourlie and Maraig and Kyles Scalpay.

There was then-roadless Rhenigidale and several outlying inhabited islands: Scalpay (where the Free Church had not quite conquered all; and Scarp - until its 1971 evacuation; and Taransay, which community survived until 1974 and which annual Sabbath jaunt Mr MacRae hugely enjoyed.

He would happily recall the annual reward for that expedition - two chickens, a lobster, a bag of carrots and a bag of potatoes - and, besides, there were infants to baptise, schools to visit, weddings to celebrate, the dead to bury, the sensitivities of lay-preachers to soothe.

In all his endeavours, Mr MacRae impressed by his astonishing command of the Gaelic language. In breadth of vocabulary, in his old-style delivery of heightened and bardic dignity, we doubt if the postwar Highland pulpit has seen his equal.

He was also an instinctive democrat, greeting all - obscure and high - with like affection: the richness of that chuckle, the horny hand which reeled you in to Mr MacRae's side, still pierce in memory.

Most of all, there was the love he bore to his Saviour.

Though his piety never intimidated, there was always, about Mr MacRae, almost a ReadyBrek glow of holiness.

We shall miss Mr MacRae's facility in prayer. These invariably ex-temporare deliverances meant much to hearers, especially at funerals. However hard the circumstances, Mr MacRae had always words to frame bereavement in tenderness and dignity.

Turning 70 in 1988, Mr MacRae retired that April, and he and Annie retreated from Tarbert to Maraig, a remote if enchanting township on the shores of Loch Seaforth.

Until advancing age counselled a return to Tarbert, the MacRaes raised a magnificent garden, entertained visitors and enjoyed their grandchildren.

He was, as the present writer can attest, the most delightful of neighbours: there lie debts that can never now be repaid.

From its inception in the early 1980s, too, Mr MacRae wrote a Gaelic devotional column for the fortnightly Harris newssheet, De Tha Dol? ; anthologies of these pieces were published last year.

Mr MacRae preached frequently in the Rev Maciver's absence and almost to the end was a-bustle round Tarbert in his jaunty pork-pie hat. Mrs MacRae's declining health and her final passing, in June 2002, must have been a grievous blow.

Yet when, weeks after her death, you stammered inanities of condolence, he smiled and said only: "We live by faith."

Earlier this month, just a few days before he died, a good man from Stornoway called to see Mr MacRae. Though very weak, he was awake and alert.

He eyed his visitor whimsically and seized his hand. "And what will you have to say to the Lord, " he whispered, "on the Day of Judgment?"

The elder was quite disconcerted. "Well, you are the minister, and on the good way many years: what will you say yourself?"

"Oh, " said Mr MacRae, "Mercy, mercy, mercy . . ."

Hundreds joined his children - William, Rachel, Fiona and Kenneth - for the Tarbert funeral. The Rev Donald A MacRae was afterwards laid to rest with his late wife at Luskentyre cemetery, that lovely strand where, through five decades and by many an open Harris grave, his kindly voice had called in the power of Christ.

The Reverend Donald Angus MacRae; born April 2, 1918, died July 12, 2005.