An Article by Lynne McNeill Who met with Shaw.

Christine and Shaw


Shaw Outside Trinity

IF the Moderator-Designate to this month’s General Assembly was a stick of seaside rock, the lettering inside would spell out ‘parish minister’ such is the commitment to his congregation and community.

But whilst the Rev Dr Shaw Paterson loves ministry, his passion is clearly for people and he is no stranger to rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck in with the practicalities of church life – on one occasion digging an eight-foot deep hole with his eldest son to resolve a plumbing issue at the church hall.

“I like it when people can see me with my jacket off and a pair of overalls on. I just get out there and get on with it.”

He is still stunned to have been nominated for the role: “I still can’t believe this is happening to me.”

But as our conversation continues, it is abundantly clear that he possesses the many gifts needed for the Moderatorial chair at this time – including an understanding of the pain of loss experienced by many and the challenges of linkages and union. He has served as a part-time presbytery clerk in the former Presbytery of Hamilton and has served as co-Moderator of the new Forth Valley and Clydesdale Presbytery and supervised the next generation of ministries for the Church.

As minister at Strathaven: Trinity for more than 30 years, he is a familiar figure in the South Lanarkshire town, which now has its first Moderator-Designate to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

In the days that followed the formal announcement of his nomination, he has been stopped countless times and congratulated on his nomination.

He becomes emotional when talking of leaving his flock to take up the mantle of Church of Scotland ambassador for the year: “I struggle with the concept of leaving my folk, but as my Session Clerk has said to me: ‘but you are coming back’.”

Born in September 1964 and brought up in Holytown, North Lanarkshire, Shaw was the youngest of three boys born to his parents Jim and Anne.

Church was a regular part of life – a forebear, a master stonemason, constructed the church in Holytown – where his father was a an elder and leader with the Boys’ Brigade although Shaw attended a BB company in nearby Bellshill, where he worked up to staff sergeant level.

He was not encouraged to consider university during his schooldays, despite a passion for science, and he was expected to become a bricklayer. With gentle encouragement from his father, he became a science student at Glasgow University, where he graduated with the first of four degrees with a focus on plant physiology. He was the first member of his family to attend university. He supported himself through university by taking on various jobs – including as a tiler, developing DIY skills which he plans to deploy during the year.

All through this time he was a regular worshipper with the Church of Scotland and tussled with an unrecognised call to ministry. “I just had this niggle that would not go away. It wasn’t that I was not part of the Church. I was faithful. I was diligent. It was one night aft er I had a sleepless night and the words of Isaiah 6 came to me: ‘Whom shall I send … send me,’ and I gave in and said: ‘Okay, I give in. I can’t resist this anymore’.

The toughest part, he said, was telling his now wife, Christine. The couple, who have been together since they were aged 14, after being in the same class at school, were due to marry.

“I was engaged to be married and for me there were questions -would Christine want to be a minister’s wife?”

“I remember meeting her at her door and asking if I could talk to her. I said: ‘I have something to tell you’ and said I wanted to be a minister. She said: ‘I wondered when you were going to tell me. I have known for a while.’

“I knew everything was okay then and I could get on with my honours degree. We got married in September 1987 and two weeks later I started university again, this time for divinity with a three-year full-time course.”

He graduated in 1990 after student placements in Motherwell: Dalziel and Hamilton: Gilmour and Whitehill and East Kilbride West.

He was licensed by the Presbytery of Hamilton and completed his probationary year at Hamilton Old under the watchful eye of the late Very Rev Dr Hugh Wyllie, his mentor and who was himself called as Moderator to the General Assembly just after Shaw completed his probation. The two remained close friends until Dr Wyllie’s death late last year.

Shortly after his probation concluded, he was called to Strathaven: Rankin linked with Chapelton in 1991, where he has served ever since with a ministry encompassing a four-way union in 2018 to form Strathaven Trinity with three places of worship, and a role as part-time presbytery clerk for Hamilton. He has also served as Moderator of Hamilton and the new Forth Valley and Clydesdale presbyteries.

Learning has continued to be a focus during his ministry, driven by a desire to support those in need. His studies have included a doctorate from Glasgow University focussing on how to better support those who have experienced early miscarriage – an area in which he has a particular interest.

He and Christine, a senior member of a community nursing team, have three children – Euan, a doctor in acute medicine, son Ross a music teacher and daughter Kirstie, a university recruitment co-ordinator who is due to get married in July 2025, shortly after he steps down from office although he won’t be officiating at the service: “She wants me to be dad for the day.”

This commitment to parish ministry has given him acute insights into the challenges facing the Church of Scotland at this moment and he is unafraid to self-reflect. He was part of a four-way union in 2018 and only 18 months into the journey, the Covid-19 pandemic struck, followed by presbytery planning.

“I understand the historical ties. With the union in Strathaven everybody lost. Some lost their identity and then there were those who lost their building. Now my home church (in Holytown) has an uncertain future, as do my two village churches. I fully understand the pain.

“I think it was necessary. I probably made mistakes along the way.”

“If I have made mistakes, I have tried to be fair to others”.

He estimates that around 300 people attend worship in the three buildings of his charge, adding: “I’m not content with that. Before Covid it was 400 on a Sunday. None of us have got back to where we were so I fully understand there are new challenges there.”

He has also been unafraid to innovate, setting up a lunchtime space for secondary schoolchildren in the church hall, offering a warm space, hot chocolate and toasties.

He also set up Strathaven Memory Group for those living with memory issues and their carers after recognising a need in the local community for support. He is also involved with youth musical theatre and is a lay advisor with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow.

He is passionate about community engagement and is unafraid to roll up his sleeves to help out.

As a tiler, he hopes to be able to gift some practical DIY work to churches on presbytery visits – and hopes this wish will come to fruition.

He is also passionate about the work of foodbanks, an area where his congregation have engaged and hopes to raise their profile of during his Moderatorial year and encourage more congregations to help, but also to shine a light on the work of foodbanks.

He adds: “It is not for me to enter into the politics of it all, but I would like to help in a practical way.”

His congregation have long been involved with the work of Loaves and Fishes, an East Kilbride charity which distributes food, toiletries and clothing to those in need.

He also hopes to offer encouragement to the people of the Church of Scotland during his year in office. “I hope we can build together. It is not building back, it is about building on the Foundations that Christ laid and we need to remember that.

“We need to be doing this together and seeing the greatness of God.”

He adds: “The church has to be an instrument of Faith, rather than worship of a building. With my own home church uncertainty, I get the pain and ties people have. We need to be getting out and using our resources and our abilities to be visible in the community. We have to engage with the parish.”

He is interested in ecumenical working. Experience has taught him it depends on local relationships.

Looking ahead to this month’s General Assembly, his proud congregation have generously gifted a Moderatorial preaching robe. He plans to wear a frock coat and, on occasion, tartan trews.

He will be supported by two chaplains, both longstanding friends – the Rev Robert Allan (minister at Falkirk: Trinity) who he met whilst studying for his divinity degree in Glasgow (“We just hit it off”) and the Rev Robbie Hamilton, clerk to the Presbytery of Clyde who followed him as a probationer at Hamilton: Old.

Presbytery visits have been pencilled in for the presbyteries of the North East and Northern Isles and the newly Formed presbytery of the South West.

Planning was still ongoing for an overseas visit at the time of writing.

Turning again to the challenges facing the Church at this time, he has a clear message: “We need to make this work. “It is one step on a journey. How do we reach out? God is already out there in our communities. We need to build on the Foundations laid by Christ and we need to do so together.”