The man credited with being one of the driving forces behind the growth of the Free Church of Scotland has been named as its next moderator.
The Rev David Robertson, who famously challenged atheist Richard Dawkins to a debate when he appeared at the Faclan Book Festival at Stornoway two years ago, will take up the 12-month honorary post in May next year.
The 52-year-old clergyman, who is minister at Dundee St Peter’s Free Church and director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity, said he was honoured to have been selected to be the church’s public face.
But Mr Robertson, a married father of three who will replace the Rev David Miller as moderator, said his future could have been very different because he nearly died after he collapsed at a wedding he was conducting in 2011.
He spent nine weeks in Ninewells Hospital in Dundee – five of which were in intensive care – after surgery on his stomach and then his lungs.
Mr Robertson’s first charge was Brora Free Church in Sutherland which he joined in 1986 at the age of 24.
“It is an honour and a privilege to be able to serve in this way,” said the minister, who spent his early years in Nigg, Fearn and Portmahomack and attended Tain Royal Academy.
“We are a growing and developing church, reversing the trend in a society which is becoming increasingly secularised and in a nation which is seeing significant changes.”
Hundreds of people have abandoned the Church of Scotland over the ongoing gay clergy row to join the Free Church, which has about 12,500 regular worshippers in 100 congregations.
Former moderator the Rev David Meredith, minister at Smithton Free Church in Inverness, said Mr Robertson was “committed to Bible-centred Christianity, obsessively Christ-focused, politically radical and outward looking”.
“He has been one of the chief architects and visionaries behind the energy and growth which seems to have characterised the Free Church in the last few years,” he added.
“David has the uncanny knack of speaking about the ‘elephant in the room’ and his recent illness, which brought him to the very gates of death, have made him impatient with cant and bluster.
“He is a man who realises that life is brief and eternity is endless and I have no hesitation in saying that he is one of the most godly people I know.”