New Church of Scotland Moderator was Monty Python and the Holy Grail extra

The New Moderator Designate, Rev Colin Sinclair. Picture: Jpress
The New Moderator Designate, Rev Colin Sinclair. Picture: Jpress
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A CITY minister who appeared as an extra in Monty Python and the Holy Grail has been named as the Church of Scotland’s next Moderator.

The Rev Colin Sinclair, minister of Palmerston Place Church for more than 20 years, will take over the year-long top role in the Kirk at the General Assembly next May.

He said he was honoured to be selected to represent the Church of Scotland nationally and internationally.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed being a parish minister and despite the challenges we face I believe the Christian faith is still relevant to Scotland.”

Mr Sinclair was an economics student at Stirling University when he took a holiday job as a film extra playing a Roman soldier in the 1975 Python film, which caused some controversy among church-goers at the time, but not as much as the later Life of Brian.

Growing up in Glasgow, he had first become interested in the Christian faith by accident as he tried to escape getting into trouble at school. A prefect at Glasgow Academy had seen him taking the wrong staircase, so he dodged into a darkened room, only to find a video being shown about a Scripture Union camp.

“I enjoyed the film, thought the activities looked great and I felt I could put up with the ‘religious stuff’,” he said. “I did love the camp and had great fun, and I liked the leaders. But to my surprise I also enjoyed the meetings with their lively singing and straightforward message about Jesus Christ. So started an exciting adventure of faith that has lasted over 50 years.”

When the idea of being a minister was first suggested he dismissed it.

“I thought ministry was about having tea with old ladies, so as I wasn’t interested in either tea or old ladies I thought it wasn’t for me.”

But during his time at university he changed his mind and was accepted to train for the Church of Scotland ministry.

Before he started his studies, however, he was approached by Scripture Union and asked if he would consider going to Zambia as a training officer in an exchange that would allow two Zambian students to study in the UK. He decided it was an offer he could not refuse.

His family were all away the night before he left, but he still remembers the note his mother left him: “Switch the gas off. Leave the keys on the table. See you in two years.”

The job, which involved travelling around Zambia, living out of his car and speaking at schools, churches, hospitals and colleges, ended up lasting three years.

“Those three years changed my life,” said Mr Sinclair. “Being away from everything familiar I was able to sort out which parts of my faith were mine, and which were not. I encountered people from many different countries and with many different beliefs. I met all the Church of Scotland missionaries there and everyone was very supportive. I learned to trust God.”

Returning to Scotland, he did his training at Edinburgh’s New College, earning a First in Church History.

He was ordained at Palmerston Place Church in 1981, the same year as he married Ruth Murray, a medical social worker. The couple went on to have four children, Joanna, now 35, Timothy, 31, Rachel, 28 and Bethany, 22.

Mr Sinclair’s first parish was in Ayr, where he stayed for six years before being offered the job of general director in the Glasgow office of the Scripture Union – a job he held for the next eight years.

Leading one of the largest Christian youth organisations in Scotland involved everything from organising the first-ever event held in Glasgow’s Armadillo auditorium, which brought together 3000 young people, to forging links with international Spring Harvest, whose council he chaired for seven years.

Mr Sinclair returned to the parish ministry when he moved to Palmerston Place in 2006. But he remained heavily involved with Scripture Union – he and his wife ran a Scripture Union holiday camp for teens in the Highlands, at Alltnacriche near Aviemore, for 27 years.

And in 2004, he took on the role of international chairman of Scripture Union, working with 130 SU movements around the world and travelling widely to countries such as Ghana, Peru and the Philippines.

“What I love about Scripture Union is the opportunity to pass onto the next generation faith and the Bible and get them out serving in a world in need,” he said.

Mr Sinclair’s contribution to the Church of Scotland has included serving on many committees at both local and national level. Most recently, from 2012 to 2016, he was convener of the Mission and Discipleship Council which also involved serving on the Kirk’s governing body, the Council of Assembly.

At Palmerston Place, he and his wife – who are now grandparents – have offered marriage classes, nurtured a thriving congregation and hosted many groups of students and probationer ministers.

And he also found time to write “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Bible”.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com