Obituary: The Very Rev Leonard Small

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The Independent Online
Robert Leonard Small, minister of the church: born North Berwick 12 May 1905; Minister, St John's, Bathgate 1931-35, West High Church, Kilmarnock 1935-44, Cramond Church, Edinburgh 1944-56, St Cuthbert's Parish Church, Edinburgh 1956-75; Convener, Church of Scotland Committee on Huts and Canteens for HM Forces 1946-58; OBE 1958, CBE 1975; Convener, Committee on Temperance and Morals 1958-63; Convener, Social and Moral Welfare Board 1963-64; Convener, Stewardship and Budget Committee 1964-69; Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland 1966-67; Chaplain to the Queen in Scotland 1967-75, Extra Chaplain 1975-94; married 1931 Jane MacGregor (three sons, one daughter); died Edinburgh 8 April 1994.

LEONARD SMALL preached on the Island of Iona on Easter Sunday, 3 April. Returning to Edinburgh he contracted pneumonia and died the following Friday. The manner of his passing could hardly have become him better. His desire, and his achievement, was to exercise his gifts in the service of his Master and his fellow men as long as he lived. His sermon on Iona was preached with all his usual vigour and received with all its usual appreciation.

Small will long be remembered as one of Scotland's most gifted preachers. Meticulous preparation and a phenomenal memory enabled him to preach without a single note. He combined biblical scholarship with an intimate knowledge of his listeners, and spoke simply and memorably. His congregations will remember him outside the pulpit for his friendliness, his concern for their welfare and his apparent inability ever to forget any one of his parishioners, over a period of 44 years. This feat is the more remarkable since his preaching tours took him to Australia, frequently to New Zealand, and to the United States.

Born a son of the manse in 1905, Small was educated in North Berwick, where his father was a minister. Studies followed at Edinburgh University, where he gained a First Class honours degree in Classics before entering the University's Theological College. Postgraduate study took him to Rome, Berlin and Zurich. Ordained in 1931, his first charge was St John's, Bathgate. Ministries followed in the West High Church, Kilmarnock (1935-44), in Cramond Kirk in Edinburgh (1944-56), and finally in St Cuthbert's, Edinburgh (1956-75). In each congregation he endeared himself to old and young alike. Those who may not have been abnormally 'kirk greedy' knew of his prowess on the football field. Goalkeeper and captain of the university team, he had been capped for Scotland as an amateur. Tall and lean, he was an obvious athlete who could climb the hills and sail a boat with anyone. He had an utter absence of pomposity. Small was essentially a family man, devoted to his wife Jean and to his three sons and daughter. Of the 48 years of married life the last 13 were overshadowed by Jean's progressive Parkinson's disease. All who knew Small marvelled at the love and care he devoted to his wife's every need. Latterly he himself endured the same affliction which, on medical advice, he resolutely kept at bay by walking several miles each day in rain or shine.

Small's ecclesiastical commitments were formidable: church committees on Huts and Canteens, Temperance and Moral Welfare, Stewardship and Budget all claimed him as convener. Nevertheless he also found it possible to serve on the Scottish Advisory Committee on Treatment of Offenders (1955-66), as first Chairman of the Parole Board for Scotland (1967-75), as Vice-President of the Edinburgh Scout Council and, avoiding any suggestion of prejudice, as Vice-President of Edinburgh Boys' Brigade; and, equally avoiding any danger of sexism, as Vice-President of the Edinburgh Council of Girl Guides. A continuing enthusiasm for Age Concern (Scotland) occupied more and more of his time in recent years, but still there was enough left for the Chaplaincy to the Air Training Corps.

Neither could literary pursuits be crowded out. He wrote popular theological books and sermons which included With Ardour and Accuracy (1959), No Uncertain Sound (1964), and No Other Name (1966). Only last year came his autobiography, Holy Goalie.

The last-named title speaks volumes. Leonard Small was the oldest surviving Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and a chaplain to the Queen, but he was also the supreme all-rounder with gifts of body to match those of mind and spirit. In the Bible, holiness denotes devotion to God, which can never be authentic if lacking in devotion to one's fellow men. Small was a holy man. He saw the whole of life as the theatre in which his Christian faith was to find expression. How wonderfully it did.

(Photograph omitted)