PILLAR of the community, Rev John Harris, is stepping down from the pulpit after 25 years of ministry in Bearsden.
As a young minister in the 1970s Rev Harris resolved never to succeed a deceased minister, as it would be too difficult, and never to take on the tricky task of a union of two churches - yet he has ended up doing both.
Rev Harris, right, and his wife Ellen came to the then Bearsden South Church at the end of February, 1987, after the tragic deaths in a car accident of Rev Douglas Macnaughton and his wife Shiela, in June the previous year.
Ellen had grown up in the South Church and they had married there in 1966. They attended the Macnaughton’s funeral in June, 1986, because they knew the couple while they were at Hamilton Old and Auchingramont Church when Rev Harris was minister of St Mary’s Church, Motherwell. Their eldest son Fraser had also been a student assistant with Rev Harris at St Mary’s.
Rev Harris, who will be 70 when he retires, said: “Little did we expect that eight months later we would be succeeding them.
“Despite their sense of loss, the South Church congregation welcomed us and I soon settled into my new ministry here.
“Worship was always well attended and supported by the choir and organist - a tradition which extended into the new united church of Bearsden Cross.
“I never dreamt I would be here for 25 years, it’s not been what I expected or planned but it’s been good. I think I can now depart in peace.”
Bearsden Cross is the result of the joining of Bearsden North and Bearsden South in November, 2006.
When it became clear that the North minister didn’t want to take on the job of amalgamating the two churches Rev Harris took up the challenge.
He said: “The more I thought about it the more it made sense.
“I knew and was known by both congregations and I decided I could establish the union before moving on to make way for a young successor.
“It was at times a bumpy ride but we came through it and the congregation is now fully united and confident.”
Rev Harris, who has three grown up children and six grand-daughters with a seventh on its way this year, has always enjoyed working with children.
He has developed chaplaincies at Bearsden and Colquhoun Park Primary Schools and more recently was part of a chaplaincy team at Bearsden Academy.
He said: “Last Sunday one little girl asked me if it was true that I was retiring from the church.
“She said, ‘but you will still be coming to the school won’t you’?
“When I told her I wouldn’t, she replied - ‘oh dear, that means we will have to keep on working’!
“I think I provide a welcome break to the pupils and teachers.”
Rev Harris uses hand puppets in the children’s address in church. Currently he has one called the Rev I. M. Cross and a dog called Hamish who looks like his own bearded collie, also called Hamish.
He said: “The children respond well to the puppets.
“I ask Rev I. M. Cross what he’s cross about today and it gives me an opportunity to say things that I wouldn’t usually get away with!
“For example he might reply that people haven’t put enough money in the donation box or don’t attend church enough.
“The puppets also tell Bible stories including the creation ones, this helps the children to understand that the stories are not literally true.
“My only regret is that I never learned ventriloquism - I think it would be wonderful to be able to do that.”
A service to celebrate the former Bearsden South Church’s 125th anniversary in 1999 with four of his predecessors, including 91-year-old Rev Scott Morton who travelled from New York, was one of the highlights of his years.
The new church was built and opened for worship in 1955 under Rev Morton after the original one was destroyed in the Clydebank Blitz of 1941.
Rev Fraser Macnaughton, son of the late Douglas and Sheila, also attended the service.
Another highlight was meeting Pope John Paul II in his role as Moderator of Dumbarton Presbytery in 1994-95 during a trip to Rome for the inauguration of the late Archbishop Thomas Winning as a Cardinal.
He also felt honoured, if a little embarrasssed, when a school in Guatemala was named after him because the church’s youth fellowship had raised £14,000 in less than six months to build it.
His concern with poverty in the world led to him becoming a chairperson for Jubilee Scotland, which tried to get the Western World to mark the Millennium by ending the crippling debt in the poorest countries in the world.
He was also a member of the Scottish planning committee for the MakePovertyHistory campaign in 2005 - organising bus loads of local church people to go on protests.
Rev Harris’ shoes will be hard to fill but he has some words of wisdom: “Jesus was concerned with life healing and keeping and offering peace. The church is the only organisation that exists for the people outside of it - it is vital that they show concern for the world outside.”
Rev Harris’ last service will be morning Communion on Sunday, March 11, and there will be two retirement events on Friday, March 9, at 2pm and 7.30pm.