Aberdeen University awards honorary degree to Kirk's Principal Clerk

Very Rev John Chalmers, Principal Clerk to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Aberdeen. The Doctor of Divinity degree, awarded on Friday 25 November recognises his contributions as a ‘distinguished Scottish churchman’.

Very Rev Dr John Chalmers
Very Rev Dr John Chalmers pictured after receiving his Honorary Doctorate of Divinity degree with Mrs Liz Chalmers and family members

Reacting to the award, Dr Chalmers said:

“I feel particularly honoured to be recognised in this way, but I regard this as an award that has only been made possible because of the hard work and support of colleagues, family and friends who have encouraged me and allowed me, over the years, to enjoy a wide ranging involvement in church and public life.

“I was pleased to be surrounded by family and friends with whom I was able to share my pleasure and delight at what was a very special occasion.”

Retirement plans

Dr Chalmers, who has served as principal clerk to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland since 2010, has just announced he will retire after the next General Assembly in May 2017.

Sally Bonnar, Secretary of the Church of Scotland’s Council of Assembly said:

"John has been a mainstay of General Assembly for many years now and a valued member of staff at the National Church Offices for many years before that. He has made an enormous contribution to the work of the church and notably stepped in at short notice to take on the role of Moderator in 2014 for which the Church remains very grateful.

“The search will now begin to recruit a new Principal Clerk and in due course there will be a more formal recognition of John's work and dedication. In the meantime we would like to congratulate him on the award of his Honorary Doctorate and thank him for all the work he has done, and still will do in the coming months up to the Assembly in May.

“We wish him well for the coming months and in the future."

Very Rev Dr John Chalmers with Torrance and wife Liz

Lifelong commitment to helping others

Very Rev Professor Iain Torrance, Pro-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen and a former Moderator, said:

“John Chalmers' honorary degree was very richly deserved.He was an outstanding Moderator in a demanding year. But even more than that, he has shown a lifelong commitment to helping others and supporting ministry, including our Centre for Ministry Studies.

“He has been a consistent advocate for this University and we were proud to recognise his many accomplishments.”

Announcing the honour, a spokesman for Aberdeen University said “An honorary Doctor of Divinity award will be made to Very Rev John Chalmers, a former Moderator of the Church of Scotland who has been influential in encouraging the church to be an instrument of healing and reconciliation.”

The university also conferred honorary degrees on: tennis coach Judy Murray, TV and radio presenter Nicky Campbell, businessperson Anita Frew, charity chief Elly Barnes, environmental activist Sara Parkin, World Health Organisation consultant Professor Nyovani Madiseand scientists Professor Fred Glasser and Dr Lesley Glasser.

John Chalmers with the Pope

Peace and reconciliation

Dr Chalmers year as Moderator, from May 2014 to 2015 spanned the intense political debate surrounding the vote in Scottish Independence Referendum. He used his unique position to focus on reconciliation between the opposing sides and brought the politicians and public figures from the Yes and No campaigns together on the Sunday after vote at a service of unity.

He also emphasised the Church’s role in healing divisions and creating peace through visiting Nigeria, Hungary and war-torn South Sudan.

Born in Bothwell, Lanarkshire Dr Chalmers studied chemical engineering at the University of Strathclyde later transferring to the University of Glasgow where he completed his degree in divinity. He served as a parish minister at Renton Parish Church, Dunbartonshire, andPalmerston Place Church in Edinburgh. From 1995 he has worked in a variety of pastoral and administrative roles at the Kirk’s offices in Edinburgh. In 2010 he was appointed principal clerk to the General Assembly.

In 2011, during the General Assembly, his youngest son John James was severely injured whilst serving with the Royal Marines in Afghanistan. During his son’s long road to recovery, Dr Chalmers has presided over JJ’swedding and watched him compete in the Invictus Games and provide TV commentary at the Paralympics.

The Doctor of Divinity degree is for those who have made an outstanding and distinguished contribution to their subject, at national or international level, either through research or as policy leaders within their profession at a national level.