Very Rev Dr Lorna Hood retires from ministry after 37 years at Renfrew North

Very Rev Dr Lorna Hood, who is retiring from ministry, has been given a heartfelt send-off by the congregation of Renfrew North Parish Church, where she served faithfully for 37 years. Her achievements were celebrated with a special ‘Songs of Praise’ service that included family, friends ---and some high profile political figures.

Very Rev Dr Lorna Hood

Dr Hood had wanted her celebration to be a free event that everyone from her congregation, no matter what their age, could attend. She said:

“It was extremely emotional, uplifting and encouraging all at the same time. It was just great. Of course there was sadness among all those emotions; how could there not be after 37 years. But it was a fantastic night with my family friends and colleagues. I could not have asked for more.

“I had so many cards saying thank you for being there for us. And if that sums up my parish ministry I will be delighted.I was there for them when they needed me.”

Longest Serving Woman Parish Minister

A former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the Kirk’s longest-serving woman parish minister, Dr Hood’s career has taken her from comforting bereaved mothers in hospital to visiting the drawing rooms of 10 Downing Street and Holyrood Palace.

A former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the Kirk’s longest-serving woman parish minister, Dr Hood’s career has taken her from comforting bereaved mothers in hospital to visiting the drawing rooms of 10 Downing Street and Holyrood Palace.

Very Rev John Chalmers, Principal Clerk of the Church, said:

“Not many people spend the whole of their parish ministry in the one place, but Lorna has done this with distinction. In that time she has both remained faithful to her congregation as well as bringing a significant influence to the wider work of the Church of Scotland.”

“In her parish she has been the model of what a parish minister should be and many people both in the congregation of Renfrew North and the town of Renfrew will miss the care and respect that she had for the whole parish.”

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Scottish Conservatives leader plays clarinet

Pews were packed for the celebration, jointly conducted by Dr Hood and her cousin-in-law Rev Ian Hamilton on Friday 30 September.

Dr Hood developed friendships across the political spectrum and in other areas of public life during her year as Moderator, May 2013-14.

Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, was a guest player in the band. At the request of Dr Hood, Ms Davidson went into the loft of her parents’ home to dust down the clarinet she played as a teenager in a church band.

Also joining the congregation were: Derek Mackay, Cabinet Secretary for Finance in the Scottish Government; Jeane Freeman, Minister for Social Security, and Lesley Thomson QC , who stepped down in May as Solicitor General for Scotland.

Last year Dr Hood’s service at home and abroad was recognised by the UK government when she was invited to 10 Downing Street to receive a Points of Light award. In 2013 BBC Woman’s Hour programme classified her as one of the UK’s 100 most influential women.

Commenting on Dr Hood’s retirement, Kezia Dugdale, leader of Scottish Labour, said:

“I will never forget a sermon Lorna gave at St Giles marking the centenary of the Royal College of Midwives. It was packed with the very best of the human spirit. Love. First principle, compassion, good humour and a driving desire for progress.

“Lorna makes an impact just by walking in to a room with a smile on her face. So her list of achievements and lives she's touched is unquantifiable. I wish her all the very best in what I know will be a very active retirement.”

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A continuing role at Remembering Srebrenica

Retirement from ministry doesn’t mean Dr Hood will leave behind public life completely. She will continue to be an Honorary Chaplain to the Queen, and will also continue in her role as chair of the Scottish board of Remembering Srebrenica.

The charity raises awareness of the genocide in 1995 of over 8,000 mainly Muslim men and boys, the worst atrocity on European soil since World War Two. Remembering Srebrenica also campaigns for more widespread education around the world to prevent ethnic tensions developing into violence.

Ruth Davidson said: "Lorna’s year as moderator was a whirlwind of energy and engagement. She elevated the role and strengthened the voice of the church in public debate across Scotland.

"Although I met Lorna through her official role as Moderator, I am delighted that we have maintained a close relationship through her charitable work, too. Lorna is a wonderful, warm, accomplished and committed woman and I wish her a very happy retirement.”

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Personal chaplain: 'Lorna doesn't do second'

Rev Eleanor McMahon, Dr Hood’s personal chaplain, shared some stories about Dr Hood during the service. She said:

You folks here in Renfrew North have enjoyed an unprecedented continuity of love and care given by Lorna over these last years and we in the wider church have had a share of that as well. For Lorna doesn’t do second.

“There were many firsts along the way: First woman to be ordained to word and sacrament in the Presbytery of Paisley, first woman parish minister to be Moderator of the General Assembly.

“And in between there were to be many different roles and jobs: first woman moderator of Paisley Presbytery, vice convener of Ministries Council, Assembly Arrangements, convener of Nominations Committee, a General Trustee, a Place for Hope mediator, hospital chaplaincy, board management—all served with the same sense of energy and commitment, with that industriousness as she applied herself to the task.

“Essentially she is a parish minister at heart, visiting, pastoring and caring for her members, through the bread and butter of parish life, yet allowing that same ministry to extend to the wider church, reaching as far as the Assembly Hall, when she ministered to the church as whole as she served as Moderator.”

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From Kilmarnock to the Kirk

Born in Irvine, after attending Kilmarnock Academy, Dr Hood earned a Master of Arts from the University of Glasgow in 1974, and continued on to graduate with her Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1977.

She visited Canada three times over three years, to gain practical experience by working as a student pastor in Stokes Bay on the shores of Lake Huron.

Her first job in the church was as an assistant minister at St Ninian's Church in Corstorphine, where in 1978 she was ordained by the Church of Scotland's Presbytery of Edinburgh.

Then, in June 1979, Dr Hood was inducted as minister of Renfrew North Parish Church. With her husband Peter, she raised two children and enjoyed a happy home within the close-knit community.

For several years, Dr Hood also served as a chaplain to the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, where she offered comfort to mothers who had lost their babies.

Early in her ministry, Dr Hood and her close friend, Very Rev Sandy McDonald, who died earlier this year, were part of a group of that brought together scores of people from neighbouring parishes to worship, discuss and socialise on Sunday evenings.

She was one of a new wave of young ministers, that also included Very Rev Bill Hewitt, who infused the Kirk with a fresh enthusiasm that won hearts and filled pews.

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Visit to Bosnia set her on new course

During her year as Moderator Dr Hood visited Romania where she saw for herself the plight of children in orphanages and Germany, where she met the families of young soldiers deployed to Afghanistan, as well as Greece and the Caribbean where she helped forge strong links with partner churches.

But it was her visit to the site of the Bosnian genocide that was to set her on a new course after her year as Moderator was over. She became a founding member of Remembering Srebrenica Scotland.

Her passion for the cause, she says, comes from understanding that genocide can happen anywhere that hate speech and hateful actions are allowed to go unchallenged.

Now Dr Hood says, she will continue to serve on the board of Remembering Srebrenica. But first she plans to take some well-earned rest as she moves out of the manse she has lived in for the last 37 years and into her new home in Paisley.

“I’m going to try to improve my golf,” she says. “I’m pretty rubbish, but golf is the one game that I can play with my husband Peter.”