Rev. Robert Waters, church leader and innovator

Born: July 8, 1930;

Died: July 4, 2020.

BOB Waters, who has died just four days short of his 90th birthday, was an influential, highly-regarded figure in the Congregational Union of Scotland. At 41 he became the youngest minister to serve as its General Secretary, and he also played a significant role in the process that led to the union with the United Reformed Church in 2000.

He served through the years in the Multilateral Church Conversation in Scotland, eventually for some years as its Chairman. With Cardinal Gordon Gray, he set up a Church Leaders’ Group, working with the Scottish Secretary of State to form links between politics and community. Malcolm Rifkind, Ian Lang and Michael Forsyth were the Scottish Secretaries with whom he worked.

A proposal to establish a Constitutional Convention came from a committee of prominent Scots who in a report in July 1988, A Claim of Right for Scotland, recommended that a Convention should be established to draw up a scheme for a Scottish Assembly or Parliament. Bob was one of the Church Representatives on the Scottish Constitutional Convention, where he contributed in typical vigorous style.

The Convention had as its executive Chairman a prominent churchman, Canon Kenyon Wright, and he and Bob worked closely on this and other projects, including relationships with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. The fostering of co-operation between the church in Bloemhof, Rotterdam, and the church in Easterhouse, Glasgow, led to many fresh insights in the field of urban ministry and mission.

Bob Waters was born the eldest of a family of four and grew up in an Edinburgh housing estate. The tough competition of the streets and the love of the countryside – especially trout fishing – made deep marks on his character. Despite his obvious ability, economic circumstances meant that he had to leave school and start work as soon as possible.

National Service in the RAF was followed by the opportunity to join the National Coal Board’s educational scheme. He became a coal miner and studied in his spare time. That was his background when, in a Student Evangelical Campaign in Musselburgh run by Dr Charles Duthie, he was converted to Christianity.

Still working at Prestonlinks colliery, he studied to gain university entrance and then matriculated at Edinburgh University, the Scottish Congregational College, and the University of Chicago.

He served as minister in two charges, East Kilbride and Augustine-Bristo in Edinburgh, both of them specialist ministries focusing on new development, the repurposing of traditional church buildings. In the case of Edinburgh, that led to a radical shift to rediscover their downtown ministry, and a superb redesign of the church premises to incorporate offices including the headquarters of Christian Aid, Scotland.

He served the Congregational Union of Scotland for 24 years through times of great change. The Congregational Union produced the Scottish Congregational Church, later to unite to become part of the United Reformed Church.

Within Scotland, he helped set up the Scottish Down’s Syndrome Association as an independent Scottish charity. He was one of a small group which created the Kirk Care Housing Association, where he chaired the Housing Liaison Group, helping to deal with retiral housing for ministers of all denominations.

Bob was also a representative on the World Council of Churches and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and most memorably was at the heart of the evolution of the London Missionary Society into the Council for World Mission. There, as Chairman of Corporations, he succeeded in securing its financial future.

Back in Scotland, he helped set up an Investment Association among churches to enable support for Third World businesses. This led to the enterprise known as Shared Interest, a financial co-operative based in the UK, formed in 1990 to provide credit and financial services to Fair Trade producers, retailers, importers and exporters throughout the world.

Shared Interest gives full credit to that same Scottish investment project as making the global initiative possible.

In a life not so much busy as hectic, Bob Waters still made time for his family, his son Derek and daughter Nicola. Over the years he depended totally on his wife Magdalene as home-builder and sustainer. His endless hours and many absences were only possible because of that stable and loving support.

When his retirement came, it was marked with a well-deserved MBE and a chance to write, paint and take time for the trout fishing he had so little time for in his busier days. He cared for Mags in her last illness, and after her death in 2015 he coped admirably, although life was never quite the same again.

Change in the Church and in society is often hotly resisted. Bob had to thole that for most of his life. His approach to it was to face it full on. His personality made it impossible for him to duck issues. And so there were difficult times. But there are many, inside the Church and outside who will remember his friendship, his loyalty and his kindness on a pastoral and supportive level. His memory will live long among us.