I still remember the occasion quite clearly. At an evening service in Tong Mission House, when I was in my early teens, I thought it might be courteous to listen to the minister for a change. It was the first time, as far as I can recall, that I consciously decided to listen to a sermon. The minister was the subject of this book, the late Rev. Murdo Macaulay, then minister at Back Free Church. After becoming a minister myself I was privileged to accompany him several times at communion services and to enjoy some memorable and engaging conversations with him.
This biography, 'Memories of My Father', by his son Donald John Macaulay, is a treasure, whether or not readers knew Rev. Macaulay in person. For those who had a personal acquaintance with him it will provide confirmation of his remarkable character and ability. As the narrative proceeds from his earliest days in Carloway, Isle of Lewis, the reader is quickly aware of a very different world to that of today, not only in the social and cultural structures of the island but also in the life of the Church. Converted in 1936, during a period of revival which began in Carloway in 1934, Macaulay’s life and ministry were much influenced by that spiritual movement, frequently referring to it in his public prayers as well as in his sermons, as the book shows.
One of the most interesting chapters in the book describes the war years 1939-1945. Macaulay, then a Lieutenant with the Ross Anti-Tank Battery (part of the 51st Highland Division), was one of the 10,000 from that Division captured by the Germans at St. Valery, spending the remainder of the War as a prisoner. It was during this time that he applied to the Free Church of Scotland for recognition as a student with a view to the pastoral ministry. It is fascinating to read of him receiving books through Red Cross parcels for his studies and of how he used these years of confinement to learn fluent German as well as biblical Hebrew and Greek. When he died in 2001 aged 94, he was one of the last ministers to have experienced the traumas of war, which inevitably had a telling impact on their lives, but which he applied more ably than most men when it came to preaching on Christian experience, as evidenced in the text of sermons reproduced in the book.
His two periods of ministry at Govan, Glasgow and at Back, Lewis, are set out with many anecdotes, quotations, biographical details about some of those he interacted with, local and national events, church services and inductions. In addition to the very informative narrative the book contains numerous photographs throughout which enhance each chapter’s account of his life and times.
One of the most valuable aspects of the book is the large section of appendices which contain details of College examinations; a list of texts preached from during his ministry and retirement; the text of sermons and articles published in the Monthly Record in both Gaelic and English; transcripts of interviews; and sermon notes on some fifty passages of Scripture.
Available from the Stornoway Religious Bookshop, this biography will repay repeated reading and is sure to be a source of valuable information for students of history, theology, Hebridean culture, Gaelic and the Free Church for many years to come. Extending to 560 pages, this book is a “must have”, and retailing at £14.99 it is also a “best buy” which I have great pleasure in recommending.
James Maciver, Stornoway Free Church