The Moderators




The booklet MAYFIELD 100 - A selection of historical notes, recollections and illustrations to record the Centenary of Mayfield Church - Edited by J.A.R.Moffat, contains the follwing information on three men who became moderators -

In September 1968, The Very Revd Principal Hugh Watt, who was ‘our first’ Moderator in 1950, died in his 89th year; an outstanding churchman, an elder of Mayfield for 44 years and a friend and counsellor to young and old. It must have been a great joy for him to give the right hand of fellowship to his daughter Nancy when she became one of the first woman elders in 1967.

In 1963, Professor J.S. Stewart, who is a great-nephew of Mayfield’s first minister, was elected Moderator of the General Assembly. He asked Mr McDonald to be his senior chaplain and Mr. Mabon our Church Officer was his ‘Moderator’s Man’, taking over from Sergeant Porteous who had served so many past Moderators in that capacity. The congregation once again basked in the reflected glory of this huge honour to one of its elders, ‘our second’ Moderator.

In 1973 the Revd James G. Matheson, who had been one of our elders for 10 years, resigned from the Secretary of the Stewardship and Budget Committee of the Church of Scotland and left Edinburgh for the parish of Portree. A familiar figure in pulpit, on public platform and on television, it was not altogether a surprise when in 1974 he was nominated Moderator- Elect. It is therefore with excusable pride that within the first week of our second century we shall be able to record ‘our third’ Moderator.



Two of our ministers have been Moderators of the Church of Scotland in more recent years. The profiles given below are taken from The Church of Scotland Year Book (St Andrews Press) 1988 and 1989.



By The Reverend George D. Wilkie OBE BD
James Aitken Whyte grew up in the years between the wars in the Trinity district of Edinburgh. Along with his brothers (on elder and one younger) he was educated at Daniel Stewart’s College where he was Dux in 1937. During his school years a major influence on his life was the Scottish Schoolboys Club, which sought through Easter Camps and Sunday Discussion Groups to help boys ‘to discover for themselves and for the world the full meaning of the Christian Faith’.
By the time he went to Edinburgh University the idea of entering the ministry of the Church of Scotland was very much in his mind. He studied Philosophy under the twin giants of their day, Professor Kemp Smith and A.E. Taylor, obtaining in 1942 a First Class Honours degree. He was a keen member of the Student Christian Movement, and much of his understanding of the faith was hammered out in S.C.M. conferences, meetings and study groups. Indeed his contact with S.C.M. has been maintained throughout the years, in particular through the Presidency of the Christian Education Movement – the schools offshoot of the S.C.M.
After three years’ study in New College, where he was President of the Theological Society, Professor Whyte became a chaplain in the Scots Guards and was stationed with the 1st Battalion in Italy. In 1948 he was called to Christ Church Dunollie in Oban, moving in 1952 to Mayfield (then Mayfield North) Church in Edinburgh. In 1958 he was appointed to the chair of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology in St Mary’s College, St. Andrews. He was principal of the College from 1978 to 1982, and in 1981 received the honorary degree of LL.D from the University of Dundee.
James Whyte is no cloistered academic. He sees theology as essentially practical and, while properly to be studied within the discipline of a university course, it must at the same time be firmly related to the needs of ordinary Christians and of the Christian Church. As well as fulfilling his pastoral responsibilities within the student community in St Andrews Professor Whyte has always found time to address elders’ meetings, lead Bible study, and speak to numerous conferences where lay people are to be found struggling with the issues of life and faith. He has also served on numerous Church committees and was Convener of the Inter-Church Relations Committee from 1974 to 1978.

The Moderatorial Year has been overshadowed by the tragic death of Mrs Whyte a few short weeks after the close of the Assembly. Although she had undergone major surgery in the months leading up to the Assembly, Mrs Whyte carried out all her duties – including the generous hospitality of the Moderator’s flat – with characteristic courage, cheerfulness and goodwill. In this she was surrounded and supported by her daughter and two sons and their young families. Mrs Whyte also played her part in the visit to the Irish Assembly immediately following our own, and indeed was actively supporting her husband a few days before her death.
In spite of this very great loss Professor Whyte has continued to fulfil all his major engagements with the graciousness, wisdom and friendliness which are the hallmark of the man. The Church expects a great deal from its Moderators nowadays and James Whyte has a quiet determination to fulfil all the duties of the office to which the Church has called him.


The Very Revd WILLIAM J. G. McDONALD MA BD DD (Bill) was moderator in 1989.



By the Revd Ralph C. M. Smith MA STM Edinburgh

The Moderator disapproves of this Year Book! Not at all that he is a judgemental sort of person. But he hates the fact that it prints the statistics of congregational income and membership; because these can encourage false assumptions about the nature of church ‘success’. Of course his own congregation, Mayfield in Edinburgh where he has ministered for thirty years, is revealed as being quite exceptionally ‘successful’ in these terms; and his innate modesty would eschew any suggestion that the credit for this should go to him.
The visitor to Mayfield is struck by several things, if he came early enough to find a seat.: the crowds of children and young people; the relaxed and warm welcome from office-bearers; and, as he returns over the weeks, he notes the conduct of worship is always fresh, often unexpected, yet always right and ungimmicky; and that the congregation is made up of folk of many different theological persuasions. The latter are held together because worship embodies the centralities without being needlessly divisive.
Such leadership comes, of course, from the top – from the man of rare fluency, perception and wit, allied to a self-effacing sensitivity to the needs of those around him. It is remarkable that Bill McDonald should have succeeded as Moderator the man whom he succeeded at Mayfield, James Whyte. (James had left for a University chair, Bill might have done the same.) Remarkably again, Bill had followed James Whyte as dux of Daniel Stewart’s College, his Edinburgh school. Later he was commissioned into the Royal Artillery, and served in south-east Asia, obtaining there an understanding of Islam. On returning to Edinburgh he took a first in classics, followed by a BD with distinction, with post-graduate study with Jeremias in Germany.
Bill married Patricia Watson in 1952, a lady as lively and full of fun as himself. They have three of a family – Sheena, Roderick and Alison.
Bill shares his family’s enthusiasm for theatre and music. His preaching is an embodiment of the arts: an attempt not to explain the mysteries but to deepen them with a true sense of the numinous. His horizons are as wide as his taste in music – from Bruckner to Beiderbecke. And fresh air invigorates his relaxation – hill-walking and cycling around the parish (a practice developed long before it was ecologically fashionable, as witness the age of his bike!).
Bill has an effective ministry on radio also, thanks to a lively, informed mind, an arresting lightness of touch, and a generous spirituality.
Bill has served the Church in its big Committees and the Assembly Council. Now he takes very seriously the privilege and responsibility of representing the Church nationally and internationally. Afterwards he will return happily to the midst of the life and people of his parish.

Bill McDonald died on December 9, 2015. His Memorial Service, A Celebration of LIfe, took place at Mayfield Salisbury on January 8, 2016. A short article about this service can be found here

A recording of a morning service at Mayfield Salisbury in 1992 led by Bill McDonald, at which one of the readers is Sheriff Nigel Thomson, may be listened to


Our History

Our History - Roots

Our History - Mayfield Church

Our History - Fountainhall Road Church

Our History - Salisbury Church (Newington South Church)

Our History - Hope Park Church

Our History - The Moderators

Our History - Rev Dr John Ross

Our History - Stained Glass Windows
Our History - The Organs


Contact Information

Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church,
18 West Mayfield,

0131 667 1522 / 0780 801 1234

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Scottish Charity Number: SC000785


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