The Very Rev Dr Sandy McDonald – Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland from 1997-98, and father of actor David Tennant – has died aged 78 at the Erskine Care Home for ex-servicemen in Bishopton
Dr McDonald, who fought a long battle with lung diease, was a beloved figure in the Church, widely admired for his fearlessness, generosity and irrepressible high spirits.
A natural media personality, Dr McDonald co-presented STV’s religious magazine programme ‘That’s the Spirit’ during the 1980s, and was a guest on other religious shows.
Later on he also appeared with his actor son, David Tennant, as a guest on a cookery programme and in a cameo role on Dr Who.
In early 2015, Dr McDonald disclosed he was fighting the degenerative lung disease pulmonary fibrosis. He spoke out for the “right to die”, despite the Church’s official position against the proposal.
Dr McDonald was married to his wife Helen, daughter of footballer Archie Mcleod, for more than 40 years until her death in 2007.
Their strong marriage was widely seen as a true partnership of distinct individuals who loved one another and also cared deeply about the lives of those around them.
The Very Rev Dr Lorna Hood, Dr McDonald’s lifelong friend and his minister in Renfrew North parish since his retirement to Paisley, Renfrewshire, said: “Sandy didn’t just preach. He put his whole self into it – his arms, his voice, his whole body went into his sermons. People loved it when he preached.
“He was a great pastor and he held parish ministry at the heart of the Church.”
Rt Rev Dr Angus Morrison, the current Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said: “Dr Sandy McDonald was a wonderful man and minister. Genuine love for people was a defining mark of his ministry. He had a special concern for the well-being, at every level, of his fellow-ministers. Sandy’s memory will be cherished by many.”
As Moderator, Dr McDonald’s friendly, approachable and outspoken manner left behind some of the formality that had characterised the role, setting a new tone that heralded the 21st century.
Very Rev John Chalmers, the Church’s principal clerk, has known Dr McDonald since the 1970s and worked with him during the 20 years he served as secretary of the Ministries Council.
Mr Chalmers said: “Working with Sandy McDonald was one of the great pleasures of my career in ministry. Sandy would be best described as an enthusiast and the Church of Scotland benefited from that enthusiasm from the day and hour that he committed his life to its ministry.
“It was no surprise to me when Sandy called for a serious dialogue on the right to die, he was a man who tempered his views in the light of reality; he was a man who sat lightly to dogma and who preferred faith in action.
“The Church of Scotland needs a new breed of Sandy McDonalds who catch a passion for the good news of Jesus Christ, but whose understanding of the faith is not frozen in time, but develops and matures with new revelation and understanding.”
As General Secretary of the Church of Scotland’s Board of Ministry, from 1988 until his retirement in 2002, Dr McDonald was an advocate for ministers. During his tenure ministers’ stipends were raised, benefits were improved and ministers were encouraged to see themselves as uniquely qualified professionals.
Born in Bishopbriggs, Glasgow, to Jessie Helen Low and Alexander M. McDonald, Dr McDonald worked in the timber industry as a trainee manager from 1952-1958.
During that time he took a two-year break when he was called up to do national service, enlisting in the Royal Air Force where his duties included operating ground radar for the 617 Dambusters.
He worked in the timber trade from 1958 until 1962 when he responded to God’s call and decided to train for the ministry.
Dr McDonald studied theology for the ministry at the University of Glasgow and Trinity College, graduating later with a BA from the Open University, which subsequently granted him a Doctorate, in honour of his work as Moderator of the General Assembly.
He served as an assistant minister at Merrylea Parish Church in Newlands, Glasgow, before being called as minister to St David’s in Bathgate, in 1968.
As chaplain to the town’s British Leyland plant, he spoke out for workers during a period of industrial action.
In 1974 Dr McDonald went to become minister of St Mark’s Oldhall Parish Church, Ralston in Renfrewshire, Paisley, where he helped found a young ministers’ fraternal group that still meets today as part of the Presbytery of Paisley.
He served as president of the Glasgow and Paisley Battalions of the Boys’ Brigade, and had a BB badge on every jacket he owned.
Dr McDonald is survived by his three children, Karen, a schoolteacher; Blair, a music industry executive; and David, the actor who works under the name David Tennant; and by nine grandchildren.