Rev. Alex Muir: 26 Dec. 1940 - 15 March 2010
Rev. Alex Muir was very well known for a wide variety of reasons, across Scotland and beyond. The last of four articles written by Alex on Revival in the Highlands was published just before he died.
Alex's brother John has provided the following short biography which touches on the the wide variety of Alex's life, ministry and interests.
Rev. Alexander Muir MA. BD.
a biographical synopsis
Alex recording at home after his retirement to Inverness
ALEX was brought up in a loving, happy Christian home. His parents were in the Christian Brethren and he, his sister Jean and brother John came to know the Lord at an early age.
Through Sunday School, Bible class and regular church attendance they learned about the Christian faith. In their late teens, he and his close friend Colin Rankin began to do lay-preaching and singing in open airs, in hospitals and around the many small mission halls scattered across Glasgow in these days. Later,his brother John would join him and their friends to sing and preach together in small teams in churches and missions in the city.
Alex attended Rutherglen Academy and Glasgow University where he graduated with a Master of Arts degree in Scottish History and Literature. After completing a Post -Graduate Diploma in Education at Jordanhill College, he taught English (and occasionally History), first of all at Greenfield Secondary in Glasgow. He also studied French and became a fluent speaker.
Missioning in France and Africa
In 1963, as an extension of his French studies, he spent time in France to improve his linguistic competence and decided to take the opportunity to do Christian work whilst he was there. He lived with a pastor in Paris and did some work with a French evangelist, Georges Buisson. He returned to the Limoges area during the summer holidays in 1964 with his brother John and Colin Rankin to support Georges in his church’s outreach to small villages and towns in Central France. They would set out in the warm summer mornings in his bouncy Citroen 2cv, with packed lunches and books for the Stand de la Bible which they carried with them to set up in open air markets.
Alex also had a burden for Africa. In 1966 he a took a year out of teaching to respond to an invitation to help at the West African Missionary Training Centre in Nigeria, where he taught English and Biblical Studies. During the year there he also was keen to take the opportunity to support outreach work, not only in cities but also among some of the tribes in remoter areas. Alex did not lose that passion for missionary work and, on returning to Scotland, was often in contact with foreign students who came along to the city church he attended. The Muir home came to be called “The United Nations” as on many a Sunday there was at least one overseas student present at the lunch table.
Return to teaching
He took up teaching again in 1967, working in two schools in Lanarkshire, latterly as Assistant Principal Teacher of English. In 1969 he met his future wife Catriona at Auchenheath House in Lanarkshire, the home of their mutual friend Dr. Jack Kelly. It was romance all the way from then on. They were married on the 9th July 1971 and set up home in Glasgow, where Kenneth and Graham were born.
Alex continued to teach until 1977, when he felt called to the Ministry of the Word. He returned to Glasgow University to study for a Bachelor of Divinity degree, after being accepted as a candidate for the Church of Scotland Ministry. He graduated in 1980. He did short assistantships in Largs, on the island of Barra and occasional ministry in Sutherland and Wester Ross, before being called to the parish of Canisbay with Keiss in 1982. Their sons Alistair and Ian were born there.
Parish ministry in Caithness
Alex had a fruitful ministry in Caithness, where his preaching and pastoral care of the parishioners were greatly appreciated. He also had the privilege of being Minister to the Queen Mother when she was on holiday at the Castle of Mey. Not long after arriving at the manse in Cansibay, he and Catriona had the honour of being invited to the castle for dinner. This was to be the first of many visits and Alex was able to offer pastoral support to the Queen Mother during his ministry. Alex never divulged any confidences to anyone, including the press, who would sometimes pester him for information about his times at the castle – and the Queen Mother clearly respected him greatly for this.
The Queen Mother and 'The Jeely Piece' song
The dinner parties were not sombre affairs. On learning of Alex’ musical abilities, she invited him to sing Scottish songs and ballads in the drawing room after dinner. This became a regular event. Alex was asked to take his guitar along and had the songs copied out for everyone to join in. Perhaps the greatest memory of these occasions, which Alex and Catriona greatly enjoyed, was the evening when, to their surprise, the Queen joined her mother for dinner at the castle from the Royal Yacht. There was a memorable, if surreal, moment, when the Queen Mother asked for Alex to lead them all in the singing of “The Jeely Piece” song and the Queen seemed to enjoy the humour immensely!
Another particularly memorable morning was when the Queen Mother’s lady-in-waiting, Lady Fermoy, phoned the manse to ask if Her Majesty could come round to see them a few days before she ended her holiday. Unflappable, Catriona, ever the home-maker, welcomed Her Majesty and showed her around their lovely new bungalow. The Queen Mother patted their faithful black Labrador, Suithe, and showed a great interest in everything the boys were doing.
Also in Caithness, Alex made his tapes of Revival Songs, God Has Given Us Dream, Pray for Scotland and a Gaelic music cassette called Fuaim an Dusgaidh (Sound of Awakening). He collaborated with a number of musicians from the north of Scotland and also the well known Wick maestro, the accordionist Addie Harper. In 1986 he was invited to take the services for a communion season in the Outer Hebrides. While staying at the home of the weaver, Alasdair Mhor Campbell, he composed the psalm tune that became his most famous to date, Bays of Harris.
Gaelic and North Uist
His affection for Gaelic language and culture came in handy when, in 1991, Alex was called to the parish of Carinish in North Uist. He had a prolific and much appreciated ministry there until 1996 when, due to ill health, he had to take early retirement from his charge.
However, on setting up home in Inverness, he did not really retire from Christian work, for he took services from time to time and, continuing with his passion for literature and music, he spent many a long day composing and writing. For several years he was author and contributory author to a wide range of publications. He is well known in Church circles for his hymns and psalm tunes, among them, the much sung, Ballantushal, Canisbay, Dunbeath and Lochmaddy. Famously, The Bays of Harris was played by the Royal Scots Fusiliers for a charity hit single in the late 90s.
A Christian troubadour and revival historian
Alex is also well known in Scotland for his compositions for the bagpipes, although, to the surprise of many, he had never learned to play the instrument. He often collaborated with his bagpiper nephew Donald Lindsay who went on to make a CD of Alex’s compositions entitled Drum of the Sea. He always had another tune in his head, which he had to have transcribed for future use.
Much of Alex’s passion for reading and writing was focussed on the history of revivals in Scotland and it was always his fervent and regular prayer that God would pour out His Spirit on Scotland. Many of his hymns, one of which we will sing today, were prayers of intercession.
He spent long hours researching Church History and wrote many letters and articles on the topic, the latest of which appeared only last week in the magazine Sword. His passion for the Lord and for the furtherance of the Gospel was undiminished up to his passing, despite many years of suffering following his diagnosis of myeloma (cancer of the bone marrow) in 2003.
He had several relapses over the past 18 months but remained firm in his faith and witness. He passed away peacefully in the Highland Hospice in Inverness on Monday 15th March, surrounded by his family, who hold wonderful memories of his life and witness to the Gospel of Christ. Alex will indeed be greatly missed.
John G. Muir
At Keiss church with the Queen Mother and Prince Andrew
Following Alex's retiral to Inverness, the Editor of Christians Together spent many uplifiting hours of walking, fellowshipping and conversation with Alex. During the last 12 months of Alex's life he and I spent time recording songs and informal revival conversations. Alex also supplied written material on Revivals in the Highlands which were published over a 8-month period in Sword magazine.
Extension of Alex's ministry into the future
It is the intention (d.v.) to draw on the 'legacy items' of Alex's ministry for the purpose of continuing Alex's heart for the Gospel and anyone who would like to be kept informed of this or to input to the the process should contact the Editor of Christians Together by <clicking here> to generate an e-mail or
composing an e-mail to editor(insert 'at' sign)christianstogether.net
Alex can be heard here to Sing the Glories of the Lamb.
Other songs will be added in the near future (d.v.)
Funeral Service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving
for the life of Rev. Alex Muir
Dalneigh Church of Scotland
23 March 2010
Order of Service
John Muir/Christians Together, 22/03/2010