Very Reverend Gilleasbuig Macmillan retires at 70

The Queen with The Very Rev Gilleasbuig Macmillan in 1997. Picture: Alan Ledgerwood
The Queen with The Very Rev Gilleasbuig Macmillan in 1997. Picture: Alan Ledgerwood
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A LONG-STANDING Church of Scotland minister who once broke with convention by ­letting Muslims lead prayers from the pulpit of St Giles’ Cathedral is retiring after four decades of service.

The Very Reverend Gilleasbuig Macmillan will step down as the Edinburgh cathedral’s minister on Monday.

The 70-year-old, who has filled the role since 1973, is a Chaplain-in-Ordinary to the Queen and a graduate of the University of Edinburgh.

He will be remembered for the bold decision to stop a service at St Giles held in memory of the victims of the first Gulf War to allow members of the Muslim community to perform their prayers next to the Holy Table.

The service in October 1991 was halted for 20 minutes, with the prayers spoken in front of a Christian congregation of more than 1000 worshippers.

Dr Macmillan was awarded a Muslim News Award for Excellence in recognition of the move.

George Whyte, Edinburgh presbytery clerk for the Church of Scotland, said Dr Macmillan had made a point of reaching out beyond the Christian faith to welcome the leaders of other religions.

He said: “I’ve no doubt at all as well as appreciation from many people, it also attracted criticism. Putting your head above the parapet like that – he’s not shied away from it.

“He did what he felt was right and from a position of experience. He’s embraced the innovative.”

Dr Macmillan was born in Appin – on the west coast of Scotland – but would later study in the Capital, becoming an Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

He had previously worked as the minister of Portree Parish Church on the Isle of Skye before taking up the key position at St Giles.

It had been a “great privilege” to serve as cathedral minister for four decades, Dr ­Macmillan said.

“I have had the opportunity to meet a huge variety of kind and friendly people,” he said.

“My work in this building has been supported by great music and a fine congregation, who have always been a great support and source of ­encouragement.”

Dr Macmillan oversaw the £7 million restoration of St Giles, which included the installations of a sophisticated lighting system designed to create different moods in the Royal Mile church and an improved entrance at the West Door.

Dr Whyte said people would best remember his colleague’s “intelligence”, “gift of language” and the “stamina” that led Dr Macmillan to match his father’s achievement of serving as a minister at a single church for 40 years.

He said St Giles had changed remarkably under the leadership of the retiring minister.

“When he arrived the communion would be at one end of the church, it’s now right in the middle,” he said. “There’s a new organ.

“The building itself has been restored and kept safe. There’s new seating.

“There’s a lot of expressions of creativity that Gilleasbuig has brought into a traditional setting.”