(the whole service is now on Youtube – VIDEO – Gordon Wilson’s Memorial Service)
Yesterday was quite an extraordinary day for me and I think others….in so many ways. It’s not every day you get to preach the gospel in front of the First Minister, the former First Minister and the government ministers responsible for Health and Education! Of course that was not what the day was about, but it was a part of it. And there are so many lessons to be learned. We have a full video of the service which we will put up on the Solas and also St Peters websites over the weekend
The Purpose of the Day
My first aim was simply this – that Christ would be glorified and lifted up.
Secondly the purpose was to comfort the family – I hope that this was achieved not only at the Memorial service in St Peters but at the crematorium beforehand. I found the short service at the Crem very moving.
Thirdly the aim was to comfort friends and congregation – the St Peters family had lost a dear brother and there were others present who had lost a friend including John Swinney and Howard Price who gave eulogies.
Fourthly the purpose was to speak Gods word before Kings – or at least leading politicians – and the media. I posted the words from Ps 119:46 just before leaving for the crematorium.
In all of the above I knew that this is what Gordon wanted. Not least because he left quite detailed instructions!
The Different Kinds of Witness –
I think this is what we witnessed:
- The SNP politicians were impressive. John Swinney spoke very well of his friend. But for me what was most impressive was the fact that they all stayed behind to share in the refreshments and talk with the people, and not just the media. Nicola Sturgeon is very goods at connecting with people. Swinney, Salmond, Robison and others also were happy to chat – and not just with the great and good. I rejoice that we live in a country where our leaders can mix with the people in such a manner.
2. The Congregation of St Peters glorified Christ by the way they served and worshipped. I was so proud of them. Because I was up front and ‘MC’d things I get a lot of credit when things go well and blame when they go badly. But this was a real team (body) effort. So many people were stewards, served refreshment, led the praise, cleaned, did the gardens and the technical stuff. It really felt like we were a body working together. And it was done with a joy and willingness which really communicated. One old friend of Gordon’s approached me afterwards and remarked: “”I couldn’t understand why Gordon came to the Free Church – now I know!”
3. The Impact that one life can have – Of course everyone who dies is a hero and the best person who has ever lived. The hyperbole so common at funerals just becomes meaningless. But this was not the case here. We were at the funeral of a man who helped change Scotland. We were witnessing and participants in history. As John Swinney pointed out we would not have a Scottish Parliament and all that has followed without Gordon. But friends and family had even more to thank him for. His family are lovely people who were a credit to him throughout the day. A family man of integrity, intelligence and compassion leaves his legacy – especially in his family.
4. That Jesus is the way, the truth and the life – There were three main elements in the service that reflected Gordon’s life. His family, his political role and his faith in Christ. All three were spoken of. But I think the reading of the Word, the prayers, the heartfelt praise and the preaching of the Word all combined to point to the root and cause of it all – Christ.
5. The Roman Catholic view of Salvation is not as full as the Protestant (Biblical) – Bishop Vincent Logan is a lovely man who has served Christ for many years but in his prayer he reflected something that was really quite sad. He prayed that Gordon being called from this world would be brought safely home to God’s kingdom and that he would be cleansed and given a place at the heavenly banquet. In this he was reflecting the Catholic doctrine of purgatory and that believers don’t go directly to heaven. But the biblical view is ‘today you will be with me in paradise’. He was praying for something that Gordon already has. When he came to believe in Jesus he was given eternal life. When he died he did not go to purgatory to be cleansed. He went to heaven to enter into the full joy of the inheritance Christ had bought for him. I thought that the Bishops prayer brought out in sharp relief – the two positions. On the one hand praying that the deceased would enter into heaven, on the other celebrating that he is already there! As we had just sung “death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered”!
6. The Secular Media don’t get it – I would like to write more on this but for me it was astonishing reading most of the media reports of the funeral.
Most of the reports were ok – the Couriers above was about the best – but to be honest most could have been written by someone who wasn’t there. The media were largely interested in only one element of the three. They paid a passing acknowledgement to Edith, Margaret, Kathy and the family, they wrote extensively about Gordon’s politics (and wanted the photo ops with Nicola and Alex) and they barely, if at all, mentioned his faith – which was a major focus of the service. Why was this?
The danger is that far too many journalists act as though they make the news rather than report it. The sad thing is that they are too often correct in that perception. We need to remember that when we are hearing or reading the news, we are not often hearing an objective report of what has actually happened but a report filtered through the journalists world view. So many of the journalists reporting on the funeral would totally stress the political because that is their world. They don’t know any other. Sadly the politicians tend to read the news which confirms them in their belief that theirs is the only real story in town. It is a circular and incestuous relationship – especially in a small country like Scotland.
Another problem is that there are not enough real journalists. I was delighted to meet Alan Cochrane – one of the few remaining. I think also of Kevin McKenna. Neither of these profess to be objective but I find their writing more informative and accurate than those who report the news unaware of their prejudices and limitations. The worst thing is those who think they are objective when they are driven by their own subjectivity and prejudices. Ironically only if you believe in a higher truth than yourself can you be more objective about yourself.
Incidentally even on the politics I think the mainstream media and much of civic Scotland got it wrong. In this ahistorical society where only the immediate and the fantasy futures matter – few realised the real significance of Gordon Wilson. As John Swinney pointed out without him Scotland would be a very different place today – but the media prefers to pontificate about the death of Rangers rather than the death of one of the most significant figures in modern Scottish history.
But let me return to the question of what one journalist called “ the hopeless, secularist dullness of the media reports of Gordon Wilson’s funeral” . Why did they miss the vitality, warmth, humour and spirituality of the whole thing? After all they were there!
It seems to me that there are two kinds of prejudice which cause this. Hard and soft. Hard prejudice is when someone deliberately excludes or minimises any mention of Christianity precisely because they don’t want it or hate. it. Soft prejudice is when someone unconsciously doesn’t mention because they don’t see it as being relevant because they either have no personal experience of it, or they cannot imagine that anyone else would find it really relevant. Hard prejudice is born of malice and hatred. Soft prejudice is born of ignorance. Look at the following two pictures from the BBC.
The first is from BBC Scotland who missed out the Bible verse under Gordon’s photo. The second is from BBC Tayside who included it. Gordon had specifically requested that that verse be placed under his photo on the front. Why exclude it? Was it accidental? Just co-incidence? Was it for reasons of space? Hardly – it was on a website not a printed page. I think it is far more likely that it was excluded because of the prejudice (whether hard or soft) which marks the BBC out as a fundamentally secularist organisation.
The usual response to this from the hardcore militant secularists is that the BBC is full of religion. Granted that occasionally it does do some religious things well – but in most instances what they like is formal establishment religious figures (or eccentrics and extremists that they can mock). They have little or no concept of real living Christianity. When you look at the BBC Report you will find that the only mention they make of faith is that Bishop Vincent Logan said a prayer. They don’t mention that Gordon’s family said in their eulogy that Gordon was proud of the establishment of Solas, nor did they say anything of his committed Christian faith.
The point is that there is a spiritual blindness. This morning I read the following in John Owen:
“The mind by this darkness is filled with prejudices against the mystery of the gospel in a peculiar manner. The hidden spiritual wisdom of God in it, as natural men cannot receive, so they do despite it, and all the parts of its declaration they look upon as empty and unintelligible notions. And this is that darkness that prevails in the minds of men, otherwise knowing and learned. It hath done so in all ages, and in none more effectually than in that which is present. But there is a sacred, mysterious, spiritual wisdom in the gospel and the doctrine of it. This is fanatical, chimerical, and foolish to the wisest in the world, whilst they are under the power of this darkness”. John Owen Vol.3 The Holy Spirit p.277
Many people at the service at the service spoke to me afterwards and apart from the usual complements said things like ‘that was not what I expected in a Free Church….what a bright and amazing service…..can I come to Church on Sunday?’. None of that response or even a hint of what it might be was conveyed in any of the reports – hence mine here and also when we put it on-line. My prayer is not that people were amazed at all the things mentioned, but rather that the experience, the Word and the Holy Spirit will bring real enlightenment and that people will come to know the Light of the World.
I loved this headline that was sent to me!
It was however referring to a theatre company – but nonetheless it is still our desire that Alex and all who were there would ‘see the light’!
Another person summed it up really well…
“The service on Wednesday was quite amazing and the possible implications could be immense. The fact that three of the most important people in the government, as well as other senior politicians, came to St Pete’s’ to a service of worship, where the gospel was proclaimed, read and sung, and that they hung around for so long to speak to people was not something that anyone could plan.” He then spoke of the conduct of the service and was grateful that the message was “respectful but not uncritical of the politicians and making it unmistakably clear that it was God alone we were honouring, relying on and looking to.” And he finished by having a desire that I echo – that it would have an impact on the way the country is run and beyond what we can imagine.
Now that would be a legacy that Gordon would be proud of!
Appendix :The Memorial Service
The following is the order of service, the families euology in full and my notes of the sermon. You will need to listen to the recording to get the full thing but this gives the flavour.
- Dvoraks’ New World Symphony – and photos.
- Opening Prayer –
- Opening Hymn – See What a Morning
- Prayer – Bishop Vincent Logan
- Political Eulogy – John Swinney
- Bible reading 1 – Ps 23 – Alasdair Marshall
- Friends Eulogy – Howard Price
- Song – Ps 46
- Bible Reading 2 – John 14:1-14 – Steven Johnston
- Address – David Robertson –
Where do we being with Gordon? It would take a long time. Remember Edith when you first came and I asked how you got on and you said I’m not used to hearing sermons that are longer than 10 minutes! Gordon never liked things dumbed down. And he hated waffle, pretension and flattery.
Lets begin with the families memories.
Gordon was first and foremost a family man. Perhaps less well known was that he was very skilled at soothing fractious babies and would, I am sure, would have been very useful in the church creche. Even at the busiest times of his life he tried to keep Sundays free for us all. Also Margaret, Katie and I tried to be with him as much as possible when he travelled around Scotland to attend SNP meetings; our memories are of almost every play park in Scotland. We also visited him regularly in London and remember visiting him at the House of Commons feeling like we were in a different world altogether!
He always said when he went to Westminster he left two children behind and by the time he came back for good they were young women He greatly enjoyed getting to know them and nothing pleased him more than having their friends round for many a ‘Wilson’ party entertaining them with factual stories and a few ‘one liners’ added in. Friends have commentated that they remember Gordon as Margaret and Katie’s Dad rather than the famous politician known to everyone.
He was always happy in the company of young people and was greatly honoured when he was elected Rector of Dundee University from 1983-1986 and was also especially honoured when he was given an honorary degree at the request of the students.
Our dad was an amazing dad in so many ways. Despite working away during the week, we were always so excited to have him home at the weekends, especially when he brought back those House of Commons mint chocolates! Dad would proudly show everyone around the House of Commons and we used to go up to the policeman at the entrance and ask to see “our dad”! We were so very proud.
He was a super family man; hosting birthday parties at the house, putting up with endless general knowledge questions at the tea-table and judging enduring diving competitions on family holidays. Margaret remembers driving him to political meetings around Scotland and also of sailing with him regularly in his very much loved sailboat Saorsa and very much enjoyed spending these precious times with him and will cherish these memories for ever. She also has very fond memories of the times they used to meet up in Edinburgh where after a little bit of shopping they would enjoy long leisurely lunches where they would enjoy catching up with all their news. Katie remembers a time when there was a security risk to the family we had our phone listened to by the police and she can only apologise to everyone now who must have listened to hours of discussions; was Simon Le Bon (from Duran Duran) more handsome than John Taylor?! Understanding that Katie was so interested in music, Dad arranged a surprise visit for her to sit in on a Radio 1 show with David Jensen. A great experience at such an impressionable age, thanks Dad! When she said she would love to teach abroad, he agreed to look after her cat, Daisy. He said yes for 3 months only; 15 years later, mum and dad still had her!
Then came the grandchildren Alasdair, Shona, Kirsty, Laura and Daniel. He always enjoyed spending time with each one of them understanding their different personalities and always had their best interests at heart; even when he was very ill himself one of his main concerns was that Shona was given the right amount of support from us all to enable her to study and sit her recent ‘A’ level exams.
One of the main highlights of the year was the annual broad bean harvest which every grandchild has been involved in. Some might say this was child labour!
All the grandchildren have spoken of memories which spring to their minds when thinking of Grandpa: memories include sailing with Grandpa and seeing a pod of dolphins playing around the boat, teaching Alasdair how to play chess, going to Lapland, hunting for snails in the garden and lots of other memories too.
He was very proud of Margaret and Katie in their achievements at school, university and also in their careers. He was also very proud of his grandchildrens achievements; most recently Kirsty being named as managers player for football this season.
He also had a close relationship with his sons in law Gavin and Ibrahim and a lasting memory is of the three of them spending time around the barbecue in full discussion about how the food should be cooked in a light-hearted manner.
In Abu Dhabi Dad was delighted to meet Katie’s husband, Ibrahim, from Syria, and throughout his illness, he would always ask how our family in Syria were coping and surviving. Throughout all their difficulties, their thoughts are with us and our family there are devastated to lose dad too. He loved it there too. We remember fondly the frequent visits from mum and dad to Abu Dhabi. He was such a proud grandfather, collecting Laura and Daniel from school in 45 degrees heat and attending parties in his dreaded Air Conditioned Malls! Using his lawyer’s knowledge, he was hugely instrumental in helping us to move back home as a family. We are so grateful we have been in Scotland for this past year.
Although so ill himself, Gordon’s greatest concern was for his brother Jim, who was undergoing cancer treatment in Holland.
Gordon felt his greatest contribution in the past few years was the founding of SOLAS; Centre for Public Christianity with David Robertson and Options for Scotland along with Jim Sillars which published detailed papers on the way ahead for an Independent Scotland.
As a husband, Gordon was kind and supportive, as a Dad and Grandpa he was always there to listen and give advice.
We will all miss you very much.
At a time when politicians are so derided – almost as much as clergy men and lawyers! Gordon is a fine example of ‘an Israelite in whom there is no guile”.
Where do we get our comfort from? John 14. Do not let your heart be troubled. My Father’s house are many mansions….
Gordon said – I know where I am going. His concern was for his family.
When he first came to the Church. He asked to meet me. You have a great message in this church. Even more important than getting a Scottish government – but you are rubbish at getting it out. Stop running round like a headless chicken. Gordon was a great Scottish Nationalist. To the end. SO what was it that got him so excited! He was greatly concerned at some of the negative things happening in society, the social injustice, the growing gap between rich and poor, the destruction of the family, the culture of death and attacks on the weakest and most vulnerable. Whilst he thought that politics was part of the solution he knew that it wasn’t the whole solution.
I think it was the person, message and words of Jesus Christ. ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. It sounds so exclusive. It sounds so arrogant. It sounds so wrong in our culture. But consider the alternatives. Many ways to the Ferry…contradictory truths….death…? The truth is found not in a series of propositions but in a person. And he loved that we still believed the bible and taught it in-depth.
I say this to the family, to friends to his fellow politicians because I know Gordon would want me to. Jesus Christ was his mentor, friend, Lord and Saviour. I commend Christ to you…not a blind faith – but an intelligent, thought through and committed practical and real faith. Seek Christ while he may be found.
You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it.
- Prayer –
hear our prayers and comfort us;
renew our trust in your Son,
whom you raised from the dead;
strengthen our faith
that all who have died in the love of Christ
will share in his resurrection;
who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
- Notices and Thanks
- Closing Hymn – Be Thou My Vision.
- Family go to the door – With the Trumpet voluntary from Aida.
- Trumpet voluntary from Aida. Let Gordon explain. Arrival of victorious Egyptian army. It was my signature tune as my first opening political event at University was the campaign against the invasion of the Suez canal. The tune was the call signal for Radio Free Scotland of which I was the director, our wedding march and at my installation as Rector of the University of Dundee!