Our former minister, Professor Stuart Picken died peacefully surrounded by his loving family at Forth Valley Royal Hospital, Larbert on Friday, 5 August 2016. His funeral service was conducted at his former parish church, the Church of the Holy Rude in Stirling and he was interred in Logie Cemetery. Stuart was a professor, Order of the Sacred Treasure, M.A. (Hons), B.D., Ph.d. (Glasgow), FRAS, and much loved husband of Hongwen and their two children William and Lynn.
Stuart began his ministerial career with a parish in the Orkney Islands. After that he spent a large part of his working life in Japan where he was Professor of Philosophy at the International Christian University in Tokyo for 25 years. One of his many achievements while in Japan was the founding of the Tokyo Highland Games in 1982. As an informed expert on Japan he was fond of quoting St. Francis Xavier who said "We shall never find among heathens another race equal to the Japanese". In November 2008 the Government of Japan awarded Professor Picken the Order of the Sacred Treasure (an honour normally reserved for Japanese citizens) for his contribution to friendship and mutual understanding between Japan and the UK. His love of Japan shone through in 2011 when he raised significant donations to alleviate the suffering of disaster victims of the great earthquake and Tsunami that hit the north east of that country. Amongst his many achievements as philosopher, academic and cleric he was also the founding chairman of the Japan Society of Scotland. He was the founding chairman of the IAFOR (International Academic Forum) International Advisory Board. He published more than half a dozen books and more than 130 articles and papers. His outstanding legacy was encouraging mutual understanding between Japan and the West.
He was our minister for ten years and demitted office on the 31 March 2014. He was respected for his service including visiting the sick and elderly when he himself was not well. His preaching led to an increase in church membership against the national trend.
When my wife and I moved to Muirton, Auchterarder in the summer of 2006, I set about trying to find a church where we might feel comfortable and content. I undertook a tour of the various local churches and eventually alighted upon Blackford. It was a friendly congregation, and above all I liked the style of service and preaching. It was traditional without being stuffy and I came away each week feeling that I had learned something thanks to Stuart’s scholarship and attention to detail. I was in due course invited to join the Session as I was already an ordained Elder in the Church of Scotland and I then got to know Stuart better.
I discovered that we had Far East experience in common, and at much the same time, although from very different points of view. I was based in Hong Kong and Stuart in Japan. Chinese/Japanese relations have not always been smooth sailing, and both races consider themselves superior to all others. For Stuart to have married a Chinese lady and at the same time immersed himself in Shinto and become a real authority on it was an amazing achievement for a foreigner, and as a result he was held in very high regard by the Japanese Government, marked by being awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure.
Returning to this country after many years as an expatriate is very difficult as I know, and it needs a lot of patience and adjustments. Stuart of course returned with a Chinese wife, Hongwen, and the responsibility of a young family in William and Lynn. It is hardly surprising therefore that on his return to his roots as a Church of Scotland parish minister he was very evidently sometimes frustrated by the bureaucracy of the Church. He was though a man of the strongest Christian faith and beliefs and I was very sorry to see him demit office on 31 March 2014 in not the happiest of circumstances. It was then tragic that shortly after that he fell ill and died on 5 August 2016, just over two years later.
It was a privilege to be able to attend his funeral service in the Church of the Holy Rude in Stirling and to discover a great deal more about his achievements in Japan. I am sure that the thoughts and prayers of both congregations will help Hongwen, William and Lynn to get through the next several months.