Rev David M Beckett BA BD
David Beckett grew up in the congregation of Glasgow Cathedral, where he learned from the minister, Dr Nevile Davidson, to see worship as the very heartbeat of the Church. After an Arts degree at Cambridge and a BD at St Andrews, he spent three instructive years as assistant to Dr Hugh Douglas in Dundee Parish Church (St Mary’s). He was called in 1966 to Clark Memorial Church, Largs, and the years of his ministry there coincided with a rapid growth in the town’s population of young families. An integrated programme of Christian Education from age 3 to 17 saw Sunday School numbers grow from around 60 to nearly 300. This resulted in much greater diversity of worship, particularly at early morning summer services which bridged the gap between Sunday School sessions.
In 1983 David moved to Greyfriars Tolbooth and Highland Kirk in Edinburgh (now known simply as Greyfriars). Here there was a fine tradition of liturgical worship, dating back to the pioneering work of Dr Robert Lee, Minister of Old Greyfriars 1843-68. There was also, since the union of Greyfriars with Highland Tolbooth in 1979, a weekly Gaelic service, which represented a quite different, but equally authentic, strand of the Reformed tradition, with no instrumental music and no sung praise other than precented ‘lined out’ metrical Psalms. During the years of his Edinburgh ministry, Greyfriars was extensively refurbished, with a new organ and choir gallery, and the replacement of most pews with chairs to allow a greater variety of worship. More frequent celebrations of Holy Communion were introduced, most often round a long table in the centre of the church to which members came forward in the old Reformed way. The sermons reproduced here come from the time just before the refurbishment started. They were published by The Society of Friends of the Kirk of the Greyfriars, at the request of members of the congregation.
The combined experience of two very different parishes convinced David that there is no one ‘right‘ way to worship, and that varied styles and approaches allow access through the Holy Spirit to varied shafts of light and facets of truth. He also became convinced that much informal and experimental worship in the contemporary Church tends to leave out important aspects of the faith delivered to the saints: sometimes the mystery and holiness of God, sometimes the priesthood of Christ and the priestly calling of the Church; sometimes the assurance of forgiveness; sometimes the celebration of the communion of saints and our hope of the life to come. He believes that if the first great commandment, to love the Lord our God, becomes totally subsumed into the second - to love our neighbour – the perspectives of the Creeds provide a helpful corrective, and show us how much we are missing. In every generation there is a need to find new and relevant ways of expressing the faith, but it is important that bits don’t fall off in the re-structuring.
A past President of the Church Service Society (1986-88), David was Moderator of the Presbytery of Ardrossan in 1974-75, and of the Presbytery of Edinburgh in 1999-2000. He served on the Church Hymnary Trustees for over forty years, and was a member of the Revision Committee responsible for CH4. He was Convener of the General Assembly’s Committee on Public Worship and Aids to Devotion from 1978-82, Secretary to the Panel on Doctrine from 1987 to 1995. For some years after retirement, he was a (very) part-time assistant, along with five colleagues also retired from full time work, on the ministry team at St Giles’ Cathedral.
David has been married to Fran since 1963; they have two married sons, one in London, the other in Washington DC.