[This is a fuller version of the Christian Viewpoint article in last week’s Highland News.]
Hector Morrison, the Principal of Highland Theological College UHI left the
house in his running gear shortly after 9am on Saturday 21September to take part in the weekly Inverness Park run.
Heremembers nothing until a hazy recollection of the paramedic who was accompanying him in the ambulance as he was transferred from RaigmoreHospital to Aberdeen. Half way across the Ness Islands, as he was on his way home, his heart stopped beating.
Four weeks later, I meet upwith Hector who tells me what he knows of the people who helped him that morning. Ishbel Barr, the young shinty player who asked other
passers-by to phone for an ambulance and who saw the need for CPR to begin immediately; Joan Roehling, the nurse from California who took over; Kenneth Loades, the Inverness businessman who took his turn, the off-duty GP from Inverurie, the holidaying anaesthetist. They knew Hector was close to death, might already have gone, but, with the help of many others, they persisted with CPR until the paramedics reached and his heart was re-started.
One of these paramedics was just about to inject an anticoagulant when Hector abruptly coughed up blood, revealing a hitherto-unrecognised secondary issue: bleeding gastric ulcers. That anticoagulant could have proved fatal.
Since then, Hector’s been thinking deeply about what happened. Some would see it as
chance, or luck that such a skilled group of people were crossing the Islands that morning, Hector muses, and that he coughed up blood at that precise, critical moment. ‘But we would call it the wonderful providence of God.’ He is full of gratitude. ‘I still have a wife, and not a widow,’ he says. Across the room, Annice smiles.
Did he feel upheld by God in hospital as he edged back into consciousness? Hector
tells me that he had a strong awareness that God was there, but not what he would call a feeling or emotion. He contrasts this recent experience with another, over 35 years ago when he and Annice’s second child and only daughter Ciorstaidh was still-born. ‘We both had a very special sense of the presence of God, the comfort of God, the peace of God that passes all understanding.’ But this time, just that quiet knowledge that the Father was present.
Hector’s been reflecting onthe implications of his illness. ‘You never know when your time is up,’ he says ‘and you’ve got to be ready for that.’ He continues: ‘But theLord has brought me through this.’
Hector had been brought up in a Christian environment in Stornoway, but he dates his becoming a Christian to a Boy’s Brigade Officers’ Training Course he attended at
the age of 18 in the summer of 1973. There he was influenced by a young Irishman in whom he saw ‘such a brightness for Christ.’ Over the next few years, as he completed a Maths and Physics degree, he was involved in student and Church of Scotland missions, and in the summer of 1975 joined an Operation Mobilisation team in France, when he says ‘you could the spiritual conflict in the air, almost electric. It was quite powerful.’
By this time, prompted by Bible verses which kept challenging him, he knew he was called to the ministry. He took a Divinity degree, and subsequently served as a probationary minister at Glasgow Cathedral, during which time he married Annice. Then he served as parish minister at Barvas in Lewis for 9 years and in Kyle of Lochalsh for over three years before moving to Inverness in 1994 to work
with others to bring the vision of a Highland Theological College into fruition. He combines the challenging role as the College Principal with many other activities. He serves on the Church of Scotland Theological Forum, and is Chair of the local Presbytery Planning Committee.
This was the career, marked by faithfulness and a tender and eirenic spirit which could so easily have come to and end that sunny Saturday morning. ‘But the Lord has brought me through this, Hector repeats, adding ‘there is some purpose in me being alive no matter how long or how short a time I have to live.’
As we continue speaking, Hector mentions the excellent care he received from the NHS. ‘What a wonderful job they do under constrained circumstances. It’s marvellous, really – just amazing.’
He mentions the ‘dignity of humanity’, the respect for life which prompted the group of Good Samaritans on the Islands and later in hospital – people of different faiths and none – to recognise the preciousness of human life and striveto save it.
He mentions the joy he feels at being part of God’s family of believers, and of knowing their support, love and prayers. ‘I think it is one of the special things about churches,’ he tells me, ‘where you have that care and concern. Real brotherly and sisterly love, and there’s been lots of that one way and another over the last fewweeks.’
I feel I am on holy ground. It’s like talking to someone has returned from the dead. But I ask Hector the hard question. Why are some people’s lives spared, while others, in similar crises, are taken? We look at one another. We both know there is no answer, only mystery.
And then I think of that young couple in the maternity ward, hearts breaking, yet aware of a loving presence. And I think of Hector’s knowledge, in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, that the Father was present. I understand Hector’s certainty that, in sorrow as in joy, thesteadfast love of God radiates from behind the clouds of mystery.
(After being involved in helping Hector, Kenneth Loades has started a campaign to fund additional defibrillators for Inverness.)