Rev Dr Ruth Page,


born 15 September 1935

died 15 September 2015

Ruth Page was nominated to be Moderator of the 2000 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and if she had been elected, she would have been the first woman to hold that office.

She was however the first woman to hold the post of Principal of New College, which shares the imposing site on the Mound with the Assembly Hall.

She was born in Dundee and educated at Harris Academy there and then Stirling High School. She entered the Arts Faculty of the University of St Andrews in 1952 and after graduating with honours in English and French four years later, she spent ten years in teaching in Tauranga in New Zealand, and then studied for the ministry at the University of Otago.

It was as male dominated as Ruth Page was later to find the Church of Scotland to be, though she broke the mould by being the first woman to be elected president of the College’s Students’ Union. She was also the first woman to have embarked on theological training from a background in secular employment.

Ruth Page studied for her doctorate in philosophy at Oxford and was then ordained to the ministry by the Presbytery of Dunedin in 1975. That year she was appointed a lecturer in the Theological Hall at Otago University.

Four years later she moved to Edinburgh to become first a Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Divinity, and a minister of the Church of Scotland. In 1996 she became Principal of New College, a post she held until she retired in 2000.

Not surprisingly Dr Page was asked to be involved in the committee work of the Church of Scotland. She was a member of the then (clumsily named) the Committee on Public Worship and Aids to Devotion.

She tried very hard to make the Church’s liturgical language more inclusive. She later represented New College on the Kirk’s Panel on Doctrine. There she was a combative debater who is remembered as bringing new perspectives and asking fresh questions on issues of the ministry, eldership and ordination. A fellow member of the committee at the time remembers that “she had a very neat knack of coming at familiar questions from a new angle and disturbing complacent assumptions”.

Dr Page was very active on the World Council of Churches, serving on its Central Commission and the Commission on Churches in Mission. She was the principal consultant on the Council’s study on HIV/AIDS

In Edinburgh, Ruth Page was a member of what was then Greyfriars Tolbooth and Highland Church (now simply Greyfriars Kirk). She became an associate member of the Kirk Session and brought her stimulating and questioning mind to the congregation’s thinking and life. She was convener of the Kirk Session’s Education Committee and frequently conducted worship if the minister was absent. Her sermons were described as “full of quirky illustrations which were always apt: three-toed sloths in South America or periwinkles in Madagascar”.

In many respects Ruth Page was a solitary person (which she might have pointed out tartly did not mean that she was lonely). A friend described her as “content with her own company”, a self-sufficiency which stood her in good stead when osteoporosis, from which she suffered for nearly thirty years) meant she was virtually housebound.

Dr Richard Frazer became Ruth Page’s minister at Greyfriars. Reflecting on the debt he owed to her he said that she was a true educator, intensely humble who never wore her considerable scholarship as a badge. “She helped students to begin their way in the life of faith and ministry”. A former student recalled that “she did not suffer fools gladly but, equally she had a real pastor’s heart, a real concern for her students, for their well-being and their flourishing. It’s the word ‘flourish’ that makes me think of her most. She wanted us all to flourish, in mind and heart and spirit”.

Johnston McKay