Malcolm Macleod 1916 – 2012
Church pioneer, outstanding Christian educator, model for servant ministry
Malcolm Macleod could be named among the Fathers of the Uniting Church in New South Wales.
He shared the vision of those who believed God was calling the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian denominations in Australia to grasp all they had in common and to form an indigenous church in the Reformed tradition. Though steeped in Presbyterianism, he readily surrendered it all and remained true to his vision to the end of his long life of 96 years.
Macleod played a vital role in the establishment of the Uniting Church in New South Wales. He worked and helped plan for union, and gave leadership in moving it on its way. He was alert in mind, an innovator, open to what was new, shared his visions and got people on board.
His gifts were considerable. He was selfless, gentle, thoughtful and good humoured.
He was Chairperson in Christian Education, before and after Union, and one who worked long and hard to establish United Theological College to replace the looser United Faculty of Theology, which had existed for 60 years.
The Rev. Dr Graeme Ferguson from New Zealand was called to be the founding Principal of the College in1975. Writing of Malcolm Macleod’s contribution to the life of the college over 23 years, Ferguson said, “Malcolm was a superb secretary and a skilled draftsperson. He could sit through a turgid discussion then suggest a form of words that might resolve an impasse or see the body through to a harmonious agreement.
“The Constitution of UTC was a model of careful and considered drafting to give effect to a long-cherished dream of an ecumenical and united college. Malcolm, together with Bill Ives, Bob Maddox, Geoff Barnes, Geoff Peterson and Les Triglone, knew exactly what they were doing, the difficulties they needed to overcome and the vision they needed to bring to the church. It was a fine exercise in ecumenical cooperation. They were justly proud of their achievement and were deeply committed to the college’s success.”
First generation migrant
Malcolm Donald Macleod was born at Stanmore on June 15, 1916, the third son of four children. Their father, Alexander Macleod, a master mariner, was born on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland in 1864.
In 1912 he married their mother, Margaret Isabella Macauley of Melbourne. It is believed she was the daughter of the lighthouse keeper at Warrnambool.
Malcolm was always proud to say he was a “first generation migrant” from Scotland. He was delighted that his name was derived from the Scottish, Máel Coluim, which means “disciple of Saint Columba”, the man who from the Isle of Iona evangelised Scotland in the 6th century AD.
He attended Five Dock Primary School, Drummoyne Intermediate High School and Fort Street High School.
At a young age he answered the call and became a candidate for the ministry. In 1933 he began studies at Sydney University while residing at St Andrew’s College, graduated in Arts and completed his divinity studies at St Andrew’s Theological Hall in 1938.
During his last two years he was student minister at Homebush and Riverstone Presbyterian Churches. He also formed a very special friendship with Fred Chong, who became a significant leader in the Presbyterian youth fellowship and the New South Wales Church and in later years became the founding Professor of Mathematics at Macquarie University.
Having completed his studies by the age of 22, Macleod was considered too young to be ordained. So he was appointed for two years as Assistant to the minister of the National Presbyterian Church of St Andrew, Canberra.
Canberra at that time had a population of 11,000 and Macleod rode a bicycle around on parish duties.
Mr Fred Whitlam, a church elder and Commonwealth Crown Solicitor, and his wife were very good to Macleod. They were the parents of Gough, who became Prime Minister, and Freda who became Principal of Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Croydon.
Macleod recalled that for a brief period he stayed at the Whitlam home. Fred Whitlam said to him the first night, “Mr Macleod, if you wish your shoes to be cleaned just put them outside your bedroom door each evening and I’ll have them attended to.” Macleod duly did this but later realised that there was no-one about but the Whitlam seniors to clean his shoes. Not many people could say that their boots were cleaned by the PM’s father!
Macleod was called to Bombala, a little town in the Snowy Mountains, where he was ordained Minister of the Word and Sacrament on September 20, 1940. In December 1940, Macleod married May Blackley from Motherwell, Scotland.
Another three ministries of four or five years followed: 1945-49 in Gilgandra, where their two daughters, Heather and Margaret, were born; 1949-53, Lakemba; and 1953-58, Orange.
From 1958 to 1969 Malcolm and May ministered at Kiama and while there he was also minister of the Gerringong Congregational Church. There was church union even back then!
While in Kiama, Macleod wrote a column in each issue of the state church paper, The NSW Presbyterian. They were mock letters to the first Presbyterian Minister in New South Wales, John Dunmore Lang, whose statue graces Wynyard Park in York Street.
They covered ecclesiastical, social and political matters and attracted a good deal of interest. It wasn’t until 2003 that it was revealed that Jamie York was none other than the minister of Kiama! In 2003 the articles were gathered together in a book, The Jamie York Letters Revisited, by Colin Macdonald.
Ian Jack, Senior Fellow and Archivist at St Andrew’s College, reviewed the reissue of the Jamie York Letters. He found Macleod was “always forceful, entertaining, cheerfully prejudiced and compulsively readable.”
In 1969 Macleod was called to Carlingford Presbyterian Church. The parish had developed in a newer housing area over some years and Macleod was its first full-time ordained minister. Being an ardent Church Union advocate, Macleod was delighted to be able to say in 1977 that he was minister of the Carlingford Uniting Church.
By this time, Macleod was a well-known and highly regarded minister. He had become meaningfully involved in church educational matters — first as a councillor of St Andrew’s College from 1952 and later a member of the state Theological Education Committee.
With Macleod now settled in a new city parish, the church was able to receive the full benefit of his outstanding gifts. He played a vital role in State planning for the establishment of the Uniting Church and was Chairperson of Christian Education, before and after Union.
Then, due largely to Macleod’s vision, the Uniting Church established its “Centre for Ministry” at North Parramatta. It was a bringing together of a number of the church’s educational facilities in one institution: Ministerial Education, Education for Lay Ministry, Continuing Education for Ministers and The School of Mission.
He was appointed the fifth Moderator of the New South Wales/ACT Synod in 1981-82 — a token of the high esteem in which he was held.
Graeme Ferguson remembers that when Macleod became Moderator-elect he was asked how he intended to lead the church. He replied that such an approach would be pretentious and arrogant. He was called to serve as Christ had served and that he would do what the Synod asked of him. That was a fine modelling of a true servant ministry!
Thus Macleod faithfully served the church in numerous councils, boards and committees in a most remarkable and effective manner.
He showed himself to be an outstanding Christian educator not only in his parish ministry but also in his service to the wider church.
He often took the role of a teacher in normal conversation and occasional presentations, drawing upon his long and vast experience both of the Church and life as a whole.
He brought to every aspect of his ministry the Scottish Presbyterian aspiration to do things “decently and in order”. His meticulous approach to detail meant that records were accurately and well preserved and any matter left to him was promptly attended to.
Moreover, Macleod continued as a reliable and ready source of information because of his very retentive memory. He often revealed his gift as an ecclesiastical lawyer when a difficult and complicated issue arose.
Deep faith, love of theology
It was with great sadness that in 1984, May, the lady of those six manses, died. She had faithfully supported Macleod in his ministry over 44 years.
Through earlier years Macleod became a close friend to the Very Rev. Professor John McIntyre, Principal of St Andrew’s College, renowned theologian, a greatly esteemed teacher at the United Faculty and subsequently Professor of Divinity at Edinburgh University. McIntyre said to Macleod, “You are the brother I never had!”
In June 1997 Macleod was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in recognition of his contribution to the Church, especially in the field of education. In 1998 he was made an Honorary Fellow of St Andrew’s College, Sydney University, and, in 2003, a Companion of United Theological College.
Malcolm Macleod’s personal qualities, his deep faith, friendly nature, and lively sense of humour, endeared him to all who worked with him. He was a valued friend, confidant and support to his colleagues.
After retirement he maintained an alert interest in ministry in which he had been engaged. His love and concern for theology and pastoral ministry are evident by his endowment of the annual May Macleod Lecture.
Macleod retired from the active ministry on the November 1, 1986, and married Joan Sexton the following Saturday. They had met during a visit of Uniting Church people from various states to former mission fields in the Pacific.
That marriage had tremendous significance for the family and the church. Their 26 years together were quite remarkable because Joan filled not only the enormous void in Macleod’s life caused by the loss of his wife, but also that of his daughter, Margaret in 1986.
Joan was Macleod’s companion par excellence. They were both seen everywhere! It was fortunate that Macleod had excellent health to keep up with it all. They kept open house providing opportunities for many to greet church visitors. They did voluntary work at the church offices until 2012.
Joan, a Queenslander and ex-Methodist, readily identified with New South Wales, Macleod’s life, his family, his friends, and his church status. It was as if God had fashioned her for that role.
Malcolm Macleod is survived by Joan, his daughter, Heather, four grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and his sister, Jean.
Macleod’s ancestry, the clan Macleod of Lewis, has as its motto Luceo non uro, “I shine, not burn”. True to that motto, Malcolm Macleod shone brightly in his life and ministry. The glow will long remain.
The Rev. Dr William Ives