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The Very Rev Dr James Simpson and the late Peter Allis
The Very Rev Dr James Simpson and the late Peter Allis

Wider Interests

Thursday August 12 2021


Because of my love of golf, I was asked many years ago to review a newly published book, The Good Golf Guide to Scotland.

The author Dr David Hamilton, a son of the manse, was a distinguished  transplant surgeon, who all his life had taken a keen interest in the Royal and Ancient game and Scottish golf courses.

His book reminded me of a remark by a famous Spaniard, Salvador de Mariaga, who was nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature: “The man who is nothing but, is not even.”  By that he meant that the man who is only a doctor, lawyer, politician, or teacher, who has no wider interests, is not even a good doctor, lawyer, politician or teacher. I have long believed that it is also a great want if a minister’s mind is always in church, if he breathes only church air and reads only theological books.  The famous cricket commentator John Arlott wrote of his profession: “What do they know of cricket whom only cricket know.”

The dangers of extreme specialisation are well illustrated in a story, possibly apocryphal, about a venerable Latin professor. When he retired after teaching Latin for forty years, his colleagues gave him a gold watch (with of course Roman numerals!) and a round of applause.  When called on to say a few words, he is reported to have said: “I owe my success to specialisation.  I chose Latin and stayed with it.  I have only one regret, I should have stayed with the dative and left the ablative alone!”  I would much prefer a professor of the mould of Professor Meiklejohn, the professor of Italian literature when I was a student at Glasgow University.  Each week he  wrote an ornithology column for the Glasgow Herald.  His wider interests made him a much more interesting personality.  It was the same with the late Peter Alliss, a former Ryder Cup player who came to be known as ‘the voice of golf’. During a round of golf which I had the privilege of playing with him at Dornoch, I remember telling him how I found his commentaries greatly enriched by his interest in subjects other than golf, of history, birds and the natural world.

Just as a surgeon like Dr Hamilton, found it healthy to escape every so often from the tension and sterile atmosphere of the operating theatre, to the fresh air of the golf course, I have no doubt that my own life and ministry were enriched by making time to write books and articles and giving talks, not just about the Christian faith, but about golf, humour, and my love of the Highlands.

That has been even truer of the Rev Ron Ferguson, who, until recently, was a monthly contributor to Life and Work.  Ron was not only a highly respected, hard-working parish minister in Easterhouse, a Glasgow housing area with many social problems, and later in St Magnus Cathedral in Orkney, he also made time to write a best-selling biography of Dr George Macleod, the founder of the Iona Community, and of the Orkney poet George Mackay Brown. Ron was also the author of a book about his home mining town of Cowdenbeath which he described as being not the kind of place to be found in travel brochures, and its football team “Blue Brazil”, as the poorest supported team in Britain!

Ron’s ministry, like many other Kirk ministries over the years, was greatly enriched, not only by his deep Christian faith, but by his many wider interests.