In all of our lives there are encounters with people that have lifelong significance. At the time it may not seem like it, but something they say, the way they look at you, the sense that this person understands you, or wants you to grow into the potential they see in you, hints at that elusive quality of shrewd but generous judgement that sums you up, and makes you want to add up to their judgement. I can think of several people whose appearance in my life came at a crucial moment, when they helped me see the crux of the matter, and gave me the courage to stand at a crossraods and choose.
One of those was Andrew Macrae, whom I first met in 1968. For months, maybe a year, I had been both excited and troubled by the thought that I wanted to be a minister. Excited because here was something for reasons I found it hard to put into words, that I really wanted to do. Troubled because I couldn't match up my own sense of who I was, with what I thought a minister might be about. I was eighteen; I had been expelled from school, and had no O Levels, let alone Highers. There were serial episodes of being in trouble. I had just started an apprenticeship as an electrical engineer, an opportunity sponsored by my Probation Officer. My discourse was hilariously broad working class Lanarkshire, and up till then nobody from my family had ever been within thinking distance of a University.
But two years earlier I had been converted. I had come to know Jesus Christ and trusted in His love as the renewing power in my life. I had discovered the joy of being forgiven, a new life of being reconciled with God and with others I had alienated, an experience of being renewed in heart and mind, and now hungry to know what it meant to follow Jesus and live for God in the power of the Holy Spirit. In the small Baptist community in Carluke I had been accepted, welcomed and trusted. Listening to an old fashioned and in your face minister preaching from the Bible, was to me like water stations for a marathon runner. And as I read and learned and realised how much I didn't know and wanted to know, so began the thought that one day I would love to do this. That word love isn't lazy writing of an overused affective noun; it is the correct and precise word. For the love of God, because of the love of God, in answer to the love of God, I wanted to tell and show and live that love.
Early in that process of longing and self-dismissiveness, knowing what I wanted to do and not knowing how I ever could, my prayers became like day dreams of what it would be like to preach and to care for people in a Christian community. And just as often, I'd have to wake up to the reality that from where I was it wasn't very likely.
It was at that point I met the Rev Andrew Macrae, General Secretary and Superintendent of the Baptist Union of Scotland. I told him the whole story including all my reasons why it was an unrealistic hope, or an immature cry for attention, or significance, or belonging, or whatever. That day I learned a lesson I have never forgotten. Read the first paragraph again, it says as best I can what meeting Andrew Macrae was like for me at that very particular crossroads of my life.
I left his office affirmed, encouraged, firmly told to stop thinking of myself as inadequate as if inadequacy could ever be a disqualification from the service of Jesus. But to begin to think of myself as one who belonged to Christ, and who if called to be a minister will find that "I can do all things through Christ who strnegthens me". Yes, Andrew not only quoted that verse as answer to all my hesitations and self put-downs. He gave me that verse, to go away and begin to think about all this in the light, not of my own self-assessment, but in the light of the fact, yes, fact, that when God calls, we say yes, and in obedient trust, rely on God's grace and provision for what is needed. The first sermon I ever preached, and I still have the handwritten notes in an old brown paper-covered notebook, was on that text.
So when I heard yesterday that the Rev Dr Andrew Macrae had died, I took time to remember, with heartfelt and heartfilled gratitude, a busy gifted man, who made time to see me and who took the trouble to understand me, and discern the undercurrents of a confused but increasingly certain heart, about the call of Christ to ministry. It would be eight years of night school, day release, University and College before I was ordained in 1976.
But that first meeting with Andrew Macrae was decisive, as a previously awkward, wayward teenager was encouraged to believe the Gospel truth that God's grace is sufficient, and our weakness and inadequacy are simply God-given opportunities for that grace to come to fruition. In the words of Paul, and from a distance of 40 years, "I thank God upon every remembrance of Andrew Macrae", to whom I owe much that over the years has confirmed and reassured me in my own ministry amongst our churches, and in our College.
In a long life, Andrew gave himself tirelessly in the work of the Kingdom, as visionary leader of Scottish Baptists, then at Acadia University, Canada, as early academic exponent and passionate expositor of mission and evangelism as core activities of church life, and as theological educator and ministry mentor to countless students and future leaders throughout the Church of Christ. Thanks be to God for the great gift Andrew was to the Christian church, to our Baptist communities, to the wider ecumenical world where he was a known and loved figure, and to many ordinary folk who sought his counsel and help, I count myself privileged to be included amongst those his shrewd kindness and wise counsel touched.