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Arbroath Minister Named Moderator-Designate

Monday October 21 2019


A high-profile Arbroath minister has been nominated as the next Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

The Rev Dr Martin Fair, minister of St Andrew's Parish Church in Arbroath, said this morning that he was ‘absolutely excited’ but also ‘daunted’ to be named Moderator-Designate of the 2020 General Assembly.

He said: “It’s a huge challenge for me individually, but also because the Church is in such an exciting place in its history. I feel a huge weight of responsibility, looking at some of the fantastic men and women who have gone before me in the role. But the Church has seen fit to appoint me to this role, and I absolutely feel equipped to carry it out.

“The need for the Church now is greater than ever it has been. We are in so many ways a thoroughly secular society, but this is not the time for the Church to go in a huff about that and hark back to the old days. We need to be much more creative in sharing our message, and we do that by understanding our role nowadays is about serving. If we want the right to speak about what Christianity means, we have to show what it looks like in practice.”

Dr Fair was inducted into St Andrew’s in 1992, and during his ministry the church has been notable for growing in congregation size, for embracing technology (live-streaming its services for the past seven years) and for innovative projects including Havilah, a social action project which has helped around 1000 people since launching in 2006.

Initially set up as a drop-in to help drug addicts, Havilah’s activities have expanded and now include a community choir and a therapeutic garden.

More recently, the church also set up a mental health support service, following the death of Scott Hutchinson of the band Frightened Rabbit. The new service was designed by six members of the congregation.

Dr Fair said: “Suicide is a horrendous endemic problem and we decided, as a church, that we had to do something. I have buried far too many people who have taken their own lives over the years because they felt alone and helpless in the darkness which many think is their only friend.

“I am a big fan of Frightened Rabbit and was absolutely devastated by Scott’s death. When his body was found something snapped within me and I decided that I could not go on merely saying ‘isn’t it terrible’ every time someone took their own life’.

He plans to use his year in office to highlight issues around addiction and mental health, and believes faith groups can provide welcoming, non-judgemental communities.

Dr Fair was brought up in Spiersbridge Church, now Thornliebank Parish Church in Glasgow. His wife Elaine, a primary school teacher, was his childhood sweetheart, and they have three grown-up sons.

He has degrees in politics and geography from Strathclyde University and divinity from the University of Glasgow, and a doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary in the US. He spent time working for the Church of England as a youth worker in a deprived area of Leeds, and as a youth minister in Bermuda before settling in Arbroath.

A life-changing accident two years ago left him with a disabled left arm, which have curtailed but not stopped him enjoying his mostly outdoor hobbies: he is a keen walker, mountaineer, camper, and golfer.

He said: “It has been a huge learning curve and for the first time in my life I have had to ask for help.

“While I wish this had not happened to me, good things have come from it because when you are dependent on people for help you take on a different view of life. The support I got from my family and the Christian community was phenomenal and I think I am a more rounded person because of that experience.

“My attitude is ‘okay, let’s get on with life’ and I am not going to let it stop me or define me.

“I am now learning how to play golf one-handed.”

Assuming Dr Fair’s nomination is approved by the General Assembly in May, he will be the first minister from Arbroath to hold the position. Next year is the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath.

The Principal Clerk to the General Assembly, the Rev Dr George Whyte, said this morning: “Martin is one of the most imaginative and innovative of our ministers. He has had a very successful ministry in Arbroath and he’ll bring that depth of experience to the task of being Moderator.”


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