Principal Clerk honoured by Assembly

Very Rev Dr John Chalmers has received a standing ovation from Commissioners at the General Assembly during its closing session to mark his retirement as Principal Clerk of the Church of Scotland.

John Liz Derek
Dr Chalmers (at left) with his wife Liz and the Moderator

Rt Rev Dr Derek Browning thanked him for his years of service to the Church as a minister, Moderator and Principal Clerk since 2010.

“The Church feels you are ours. You belong to us and you made us feel we belong to you,” the Moderator said.

Dr Chalmers was known throughout the church for his pastoral care, he added.

“Many have found guidance, support and perhaps a little firmness over the years.

“John, the whole Church is in your debt.”

Dr Chalmers said he had been touched by the death of Very Rev Dr James Weatherhead in the early hours of the morning before the start of this year’s General Assembly.

A former Principal Clerk of the Church, he and Dr Chalmers are part of a select group of people - fewer than 40— who have served in the role since the 1570s.

“This is a rare privilege for which I am truly grateful,” he said. “I am forever grateful for the honour it has been to serve the Church in this way.

Dr Chalmers, who is also a member of the Chapel Royal, went on to thank everyone who had helped him over the years, naming many people including Alison Murray, senior administrator and assistant to the Moderator, who also retires this year.

“Together we have weathered storms; we’ve also had a lot of fun,” he said.

Dr Chalmers reflected that during his tenure the Church has spent many hours discussing “the complex issue of Human Sexuality”.

He has endeavoured to be a positive force for reconciliation during the discussion, he said, and hopes the Church has now crossed a line and will move on, accepting that people will continue to feel and believe differently on those issues.

We must respect and honour those differences while remaining together, told the General Assembly.

“There is no limit to the harm we can do ourselves if we do not.”

As Principal Clerk, helping people who felt strongly about often complex and difficult issues was daily duty.

“I always attempted to point people in the direction of alternative means of resolving their disputes—talking, listening and mediation instead of litigation.”

He also paid tribute to his wife Liz, who he said has provided him with immense support in his role. “Liz has been incredibly tolerant of the long hours and commitment required by this job. I just hope she’ll be equally tolerant when I am kicking about the house,” he quipped.

Saying that his service had been, “a privilege beyond words”, Dr Chalmers reminded the gathering that he, Very Rev Dr Russell Barr and retiring CrossReach chief executive Peter Bailey will be abseiling 165 feet off the Forth Bridge tomorrow. Leap of Faith is part of a charity event and will raise money for CrossReach, the Church’s social care arm.

“I’ll be going out with a bang with Russell and Peter.”

Read more about the event and donate to Leap of Faith at the Just Giving page