The Very Reverend Dr Sandy McDonald

former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

Born: November 5, 1937

Died: March 17th 2016

The Very Reverend Dr Sandy McDonald, who has died aged 78, was one of Scotland’s leading Presbyterian churchmen who, as General Secretary of the Kirk’s Board of Ministry, did much to improve the life and work of his fellow clergy. To a generation of ministers he was “the pastors’ pastor.”

More than that, his term as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1997, was marked by a more modern and relaxed style which set a template for the future of the Kirk as it approached the 21st Century.

His warm, friendly, jocular, down-to-earth manner made for a refreshing change and his influence upon the moderatorial role is still felt today.

More recently, as he knowingly approached the end of his life, Mr McDonald spoke out courageously in favour of the right-to-die. Suffering from a terminal illness, he declared in February 2015 that it was time for society to take seriously “the provision of a peaceful end of life for all those who want it.” The Kirk is formally opposed to assisted suicide.

Throughout his career he often tackled controversial subjects and spoke out when the need arose. His year as Moderator began with a personal declaration that it was important for the Church of Scotland to foster an interest in matters political.

As the public face of the Kirk he criticised the National Lottery, at the time only three years old, accusing it of “conning” poor people out of their money. He also called for a more equal sharing of the nation’s wealth and an end to the “awful injustice” of folk who receive no state benefit because they are homeless.

As Moderator too, it was Mr McDonald’s onerous duty to lead the Church’s tribute to Princess Diana who died during his term in office.

Faced with the reality of steadily falling congregation numbers, he was convinced that the Kirk would not be able sustain the number of full-time ministers. Thus, he supported the introduction of more pastoral assistants, auxiliary ministers and elders with a wider role in the Church. He also wanted to see more on-the-job training to ensure that ministers moved with the times.

Throughout his pastoral career Mr McDonald was always keen to take the Kirk beyond the pulpit and into the home. He was an experienced broadcaster, often appearing on STV’s Late Call and co-presenting the channel’s religious affairs magazine programme That’s The Spirit in the 1980s.

Even after his retirement, he could occasionally be spotted making television appearances. These were not unconnected to the fact that one of his sons, David Tennant, is a successful actor. In May, 2008, he made a non-speaking cameo appearance in the Dr Who episode “The Unicorn and the Wasp” playing a footman alongside his son who played the 10th time travelling Doctor in the long-running BBC series. The pair also appeared together in the celebrity version of Ready Steady Cook.

Earlier this year (2015) Tennant dedicated his Special Recognition Award at the National Television Awards to his father.

Alexander McDonald was born in Bishopbriggs, the son of Jessie Helen and Alexander M McDonald. He was educated at Bishopbriggs Higher Grade School and at Whitehall Senior Secondary in Glasgow.

In 1952 he worked as a trainee manager in the timber trade, working in the industry till 1958 with a two-year break in the middle for National Service in the RAF. From 1958 till 1962 he worked in the motor trade before making the decision to train for the ministry.

He studied theology at Glasgow University and Trinity College, graduating some time later with a BA in Divinity from the Open University. He was an assistant minister at Merrylea Parish Church in Newlands, Glasgow, before moving to his first charge, St David’s in Bathgate, in 1968. The role of industrial chaplain to the town’s British Leyland plant came with the job. During his period at Bathgate, Sandy was often to be found working unpaid behind the counter of the local fish and chip shop. It was, he reckoned, a good way of getting to know his parishioners.

In 1974 he became minister at St Mark’s Oldhall Church, Paisley, where he remained until 1988 when he became General Secretary of the Kirk’s Board of Ministry, a post he held until his retirement in 2002.

It was a job at which he excelled. He was acutely aware of the pressures under which Church of Scotland clergymen and women operate. With a wife and three children himself, he knew how difficult it was to bring up a family on a minister’s modest stipend. Thus, he set about improving pay and conditions.

Mr McDonald met his wife, Helen, while he was at St George’s Tron Church in Glasgow. She was a member of the choir. A few years before her death in 2007 the couple celebrated their 40th anniversary by holding a service to renew their vows in the church.

He passed away in the Erskine care home for ex-servicemen in Bishopton in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Mr McDonald is survived by his three children - Karen, a schoolteacher, Blair, a senior executive in the music industry and David, the actor who works under the name David Tennant - and nine grandchildren.

Allan Laing