Church members congratulate Rev Dr Ian Fraser on his 100th birthday

Year Book Editor Rev Dr Douglas Galbraith and Rev Dr John Harvey, a founding member of the Iona Community, lead tributes to Rev Dr Ian Fraser and look back at his remarkable career as he turns 100 years old.

Rev Dr Ian Fraser speaking at his birthday celebrations
Rev Dr Ian Fraser speaking at his birthday celebrations

Rev Dr Douglas Galbraith writes:

Ian Fraser is one of the most significant Scottish church leaders of the 20th century, a pioneer minister who helped move the church from being a body which gathered members into itself to becoming a body that found its true identity at large in the world.

The 1960s was a time of new reformation in the church, where the emphasis was on the church in the world, now something taken for granted. It was a time of new interest in group discussion of the Bible, a new curiosity about other denominations, and above all a time of engagement with the real issues and dilemmas faced in the daily working life of society at large.

Ian Fraser broke new ground in all of these areas. His book Bible, Congregation and Community, written while parish minister at Rosyth, influenced the transformation of the church from its clergy-focus to the folk in the pews taking an equal part in working out the meaning of the gospel in the political, social and moral realities of the times.

So did his first role as a minister, when he broke ranks and took a labouring role in a paper mill to learn of the 'real world' before entering a pulpit, a move which later took formal shape in industrial, now workplace, chaplaincy. As a minister he also served as a local councillor and was actively involved in politics, most memorably in effective protest over the poll tax.

This was taken to a new level when Ian was appointed as the first Warden of Scottish Churches House, Dunblane. This was not to be just a centre for the Churches but became a free place for church to encounter society at large, when consultations were arranged not just between denominations but between church and industry, journalism, the law and the penal system, education, the arts, broadcasting, government.

The Centre also broke new ground within institutions, for example by bringing together management and work force, or young people and local politicians, starting conversations that had not happened before.

Dr Fraser blows out the candles on his cake
Dr Fraser blows out the candles on his cake

One of his initiatives, which lasted some eight years, was to bring together hymn writers to break the mould of traditional hymnody and write new hymns for a new age. Ian himself contributed many, now found in many hymns books including the current Church Hymnary.

His 'Lord, bring the day to pass' on the care of the earth, written while this was still a minority concern, is a prime example of how the hymn writer can guide the mission of the church into new channels.

Ian's talents then 'went viral' as he became an executive secretary of the World Council of Churches and later dean and head of the department of mission at Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham. His work for the WCC led him into contact with the church in some of the riskiest political situations in the world, Latin America, the Philippines, South Africa under apartheid, and behind the Iron Country, and his stories of narrow escapes and secret meetings are the stuff of the spy novel.

One of Ian's inspirations was his membership of the Iona Community, of which he was one of the earliest members and for whose publishing arm he is still writing books on the issues of the day.

Another inspiration was his marriage: Ian's life, travels, and his many writings were enriched by the active partnership with his wife Margaret, who died of cancer some thirty years ago.

In a recent interview in The Herald he said, "I believe death has a right to take people, however awkwardly that falls out. But I believe death has no right to separate us. For a wee while we were torn apart by death but then she came back to me. I do not know if this seems fanciful but I live with the Holy Spirit and with her. They give insights to me. I feel that when I come to see something more clearly that she has had a hand in it. We were very much together, very much a partnership."

Ian's biography, from his birth to a butcher's family in the North East of Scotland to his ministries in Scotland and beyond, was published in 2012 (Ian Cranston, Wild Goose Publications).

Birthday banner
Birthday banner

Rev Dr John Harvey writes:

The Iona Community has been immensely privileged to have shared many of these decades with Ian. We were very conscious of his prophetic and ground-breaking ministry both nationally and world-wide - in so many ways, he was the pioneering bridge builder between the Gospel and the world for the 20th Century.

But we also knew him as a colleague and a friend, with an ability to make us laugh and a fund of wonderful stories, as well as the determination to keep us all theologically and practically on our toes. We thank God for Ian Fraser.