Minister in Glasgow and Caithness

Born: November 11, 1945;

Died: August 30, 2019

RONNIE Johnstone, who has died aged 73, was a popular Church of Scotland minister who began his ministry in his native Glasgow but served for many years in Caithness.

He grew up in the family home in Argyll Street with his older brother Neil. He was educated at Woodside Senior Secondary School and on leaving, entered the civil service and worked with the National Assistance Board, for some of that time in London.

With the background of a Christian home, belonging to the local church in the Anderston area of Glasgow, his Christian faith was formed in the Boys’ Brigade. He was also greatly influenced by the significant ministry given by the family minister, the Rev Archie Russell.

It was his civil service boss, herself a Christian, who hearing him constantly speaking so about what he would like to see change in the Church, directly challenged him to do something about it, and go into the Church and become a minister.

Ronnie Johnstone was still working for the National Assistance Board when he married Freda in 1970. She knew his heart was in the Church, and so a year into their marriage she persuaded him to resign his job and embark on his training for the ministry of the Church of Scotland.

His university years were years of great fulfilment. He loved the intellectual challenge and shone brilliantly academically, collecting many prizes. As top student in his degree for New Testament he was the dazzling class star in New Testament Greek. As a result he was awarded a Gold Medal. Despite encouragement to go on to study for a PhD, he declined the offer to pursue his primary vocation to be a parish minister. As a further preparation for his ministry, Ronnie Johnstone joined the Iona Community.

After his probationary assistantship at New Erskine Church, the call came in 1977 to Pollokshaws Parish Church in the south side of Glasgow, and his ordination to the ministry of the Church of Scotland. Ronnie loved the folk of Pollokshaws and had an immediate rapport with the people. He was a young minister with a rich and varied life experience behind him.

He also had great ability, boundless energy, and clear understanding of the role of the Parish Church in a community, taught by his great mentors in ministry; the Rev Archie Russell, the Rev Tom Girdwood, the Rev Tom Williamson and the Very Rev Dr George McLeod, and Deaconess Alice Scrimgeour. And he had the powerhouse of Freda, his wife, beside and behind him.

All were happily settled in the city of their roots when the call came to the Thurso West Church, in 1984. He was to be the 13th minister of that congregation and the first to retire from the church after a 27-year ministry, and an even longer time serving the Caithness community. Ronnie Johnstone in fact lived half his life in Caithness, the most northerly county on the mainland of Scotland.

Speaking at his funeral service in Thurso West Church on the 6th September, Alan Sparling, the Session Clerk of the congregation used these words in appreciation of their much loved minister: "Ronnie Johnstone was the complete professional, who showed great care and attention in every aspect of his ministry.

"He was very expert in church law and always made sure we were doing things correctly, while encouraging us in innovation. In partnership together we shared 27 very happy years, culminating in the renovation of the church buildings to make them fit for purpose for the future and a place of beauty for the worship of God.

"His pastoral care for his flock was exceptional. He was an interesting, well-read, superb teacher, educational and entertaining, very well-read, ever up-to-date and a hugely gifted communicator of the gospel and a craftsman of beautiful worship."

Ronnie Johnstone was a fine tenor singer, encouraging his church choir by his involvement in Sunday anthems and in their participation in Caithness Music Festivals. He was also an able pianist and in retirement often played the organ on Sundays in Dunbeath Church. At church and community coffee mornings, however, his hands were usually to be found in the sink, washing the dishes. R

In the wider Caithness community, Ronnie Johnstone was a past president and long-standing member of Thurso Rotary Club. During his ministry in Thurso he was industrial chaplain to United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority Nuclear Power Development Establishment and the Ministry of Defence’s Vulcan Naval Reactor Test Establishment at Dounreay and padre to Thurso Royal British Legion. He was also padre to the US Navy base at Forss.

He was a member of the Caithness Redesign NHS Group from its inception and campaigned vigorously for retaining the Dunbar Hospital in Thurso where he was a very popular chaplain to patients and staff. As area representative on the Scottish Ambulance Service Executive, he was closely involved in provision of ambulance services in the County of Caithness, an ardent voice and campaigner for patients, many of them expectant mothers, making the long journey to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness. Ronnie Johnstone was totally passionate about Caithness and was a clear voice and energetic activist in and for this county.

Beyond his ministry in his congregations Ronnie Johnstone was a regular commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. He served for a time as a much valued member of the Church and Nation (now Church and Society) Committee of the General Assembly.

Following his retirement as minister of Thurso West Church, in 2011, with his rich experience of Presbytery and General Assembly Procedures and his organisational ability he was asked to serve as Clerk to the Presbytery of Caithness, an office he held with faithful distinction until the end of 2018.

He is survived by his wife Freda, their daughters Pauline and Rachael, their sons-in-law Christopher and Giorgio, their grandsons Kieran and Lorenzo and his brother Neil.