Ministers – Rev. Ninian Hill 1930-1931

Rev Ninian Hill.

Ninian Hill is acknowledged as the first minister of the Church, although he only served in that capacity for a year.  But his response to the tragedy of World War One and his contribution to the development of St. Andrews span much more than just one year.  And St. Andrews in many ways shaped Ninian’s life and ministry.

Ninian was born into a Greenock ship-building family on 27th November 1861.  He was an only child.  Ninian was Educated at St Andrew’s and Oxford Universities before coming to Edinburgh in 1901 as the General Secretary of the Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Children.  He became an elder in Murrayfield Church in Edinburgh.

It was Ninian who promoted the idea that the churches of Scotland should build a Church and Hospice in Jerusalem.  This was at a time when much thought was being given in Scotland as to how to respect the memory of those who had sacrificed their lives, and those now buried in far away places.  Ninian raised his idea at a Kirk Session meeting and then brought it to a Presbytery of Edinburgh meeting.  The idea was strongly supported and started to develop.  It was later approved at the General Assembly of The Church of Scotland in 1923 and a committee was set up to take forward the development of ‘The Scottish Churches Memorial in Jerusalem’.

At that time the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church of Scotland were separate churches working closely together, (They united to become the modern Church of Scotland on 2nd October 1929), and the committee reflected the two churches, with two Convenors (Rev. Norman Maclean and Rev. W. Ewing), and two Secretaries (Rev. John Philip of Braid Avenue in Edinburgh, and Rev Ninian Hill of 3 Murrayfield Avenue, Edinburgh).

From correspondence we can see that Ninian was very actively involved in the fundraising and the planning and oversight of the construction and in visiting Jerusalem.  He represented the Committee in Scotland.  There was also a local committee convened by S.G. Kermack, Government Advocate, and Dr. J.A. Henderson, Senior Medical Officer.

Palestine had come under British Mandate and this worked in the Committee’s favour because there was a supportive administration.  Also there were many Scottish soldiers and civil servants remaining in the country and they would require a place of worship.

After years of fundraising and planning, the church was consecrated and opened in 1930.

Ninian’s journey is also important.  When he began his involvement in the Memorial Church project he was an elder of the Church of Scotland, working for a national charity.  But he felt drawn more and more to examine the direction in his life and eventually he gave up his work to move towards the full-time ministry of the Church of Scotland.  He may have studied Theology at Oxford, and also at Edinburgh’s New College.  He was licensed by the Presbytery of Edinburgh in 1922 and became an Assistant Minister at St. Cuthbert’s Church in the centre of Edinburgh.  (Rev. Norman MacLean, mentioned above as the Convenor of the Scottish Churches memorial project, had been the Minister of St Cuthbert’s Church since 1915, and remained in post until he retired in 1936.  Norman was also Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1927, and active in steering the Church towards Union).

At 61 years old, Ninian was not a young man when he took up his first charge in 1930.  But his church was young – very young – and he knew it intimately because he had worked so tirelessly to establish it.

Ninian returned to Scotland in 1932.  In 1935 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity by the University of Edinburgh.  That was also the year he married Marguerite Richter.  For 23 years he remained an Honorary Minister at St Cuthbert’s until he died in 1946.  His ashes are interred in the back wall of the church, close to the vestry.

THERE ARE TWO PHOTOGRAPHS OF REV. NINIAN HILL IN THE VESTRY OF THE CHURCH.  THEY ARE FRAMED, AND IT IS A PITY TO DAMAGE THE FRAMING TO EXTRACT THE PHOTOGRAPHS FOR COPYING.   WE HOPE THERE ARE OTHER PHOTOGRAPHS AVAILABLE AND THAT SOMEONE CAN COPY AND DONATE ONE TO US.  IF WE CANNOT FIND ANY, WE WILL COPY WHAT WE HAVE.

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