I am sitting on the train enjoying the beauties of the Angus Coast as I head back to Dundee from a funeral in Montrose. In some ways, as all funerals should be, it was serious, solemn and a time for sorrow. In others it was serious, solemn and a time for rejoicing. It was a great illustration of the biblical truth that we mourn, but not as do others!
Having begun a Grace Church in Montrose just three weeks ago, it may seem like a hammer blow, that one of my first duties was to bury one of the ‘core group’ that had started the new Church. On Sunday he was doing ‘door duty’ in the street welcoming new people into the hall. On Wednesday he was at a prayer meeting and on Friday he had died. Although he was aged 73, he was fit and healthy, and so his death was a tremendous shock to his family and to the Church.
Russell was born in 1943 in Montrose. He had one brother and two sisters.
He attended Southesk primary and then Montrose academy. He met Lorna in 1963 but he was honest from the start that he intended to join the merchant navy after he had finished serving his time as a motor mechanic with Duthies garage. He joined the merchant navy with P&0 in 1964, often being apart from Lorna for as much as 10 months. They were married in September 1968. Lorna travelled the world on Russell’s ships a few time. They had three children, Graham, Paul and Gavin. Paul was born in 1979 with downs syndrome and died five and a half months later. Russell was at the Panama Canal at that time and could not get home for a week. After this experience he decided that being away for so long had to stop and so he transferred to P&O ferries in Aberdeen where he remained until he took early retirement in 2000. After a few months “Rest” he worked part time for a local taxi firm then became a manager helping to run Montrose laundry for a few years. He finally retired two and half years ago. Russell enjoyed his computer, driving (he would take anyone anywhere at any time without complaint) and his holidays abroad with Lorna and sometimes with their dear friends. Graham married Radka and three years ago they had Zoe. Russell loved and adored her.
Of course the bare facts and chronology of someone’s life, although they say a lot, don’t tell the whole story. His son Graham gave a warm and appropriate tribute to his dad as the man who was ‘always there’. I think the extent to which Russell was valued was seen in the packed attendance at the funeral in the Congregational church in Montrose.
My involvement with Russell was brief, but sweet. About three months ago Russell started coming to St Peters when he heard that we were thinking of starting a new church in his home town. He was not a member of any church and when Lorna left the Church of Scotland, he decided to come with her. He loved the church and seemed to drink in the word. Over the past months people saw a noted change. Russell was very involved in the setting up of the new Grace church, being a part of the ‘core’ group and helping to prepare the halls and grounds for the first service. For that service I had the pleasure of standing with him at the door, as he warmly welcomed people. A couple of Wednesdays ago, as he returned from the Core group prayer meeting, he said to Lorna that he was looking forward to becoming the first member of Grace Church. It was not to be. He died on the Friday evening and instantly became a member of the Church Triumphant!
The ways of God are often unknown to us, but sometimes we can see how his providential hand works all things for the good of those who love him. I am stunned at his timing in Russells life. Who would have thought that as a result of a casual conversation after an evening meeting in Arbroath, this July, we would end up starting a new church in Montrose – a church which would be launched with the sorrow of losing its first member before he could even join, and yet the deeper joy of knowing that the Lord had already prepared the way. We know that we serve a God who watches over the widow and the fatherless. May he also bless the witness of Russell and the word that so many people heard at the funeral. The blood of the witnesses is the seed of the church.