Real life Vicar of Dibley finds warm welcome in new role

Rev Elspeth McKay with the Highland cow and her calf
Rev Elspeth McKay with the Highland cow and her calf

The new minister at Cumbernauld Old Parish Church is getting used to one comparison in particular.

Yes, the Vicar of Dibley herself would be impressed by the Reverend Elspeth McKay, who became the new minister to the congregation in August.

Dr Stuart McDonald, Moderator Falkirk Presbytery; Rev Elspeth McKay; Rev Murdo Campbell, outgoing minister and Christopher Dunn, Depute Presbytery Clerk at Reverend McKay's induction.

Dr Stuart McDonald, Moderator Falkirk Presbytery; Rev Elspeth McKay; Rev Murdo Campbell, outgoing minister and Christopher Dunn, Depute Presbytery Clerk at Reverend McKay's induction.

Elspeth swapped a life of academia to follow her calling into the ministry and isn’t fazed at all by the comparisons to Geraldine, the much-loved character played by Dawn French in the hit BBC show.

“It’s the story of my life!” she said, when asked if she minded the comparison.

Indeed, when she went to her first parish, in rural Aberdeenshire, she hit the headlines of several national newspapers for channeling her inner Vicar of Dibley.

Elspeth arranged for a Highland cow and her calf, a donkey called Jason and a sheep and pony to attend the annual Christingle service at Midmar Church on Christmas Eve.

“That was an amazing Christmas!” she said.

“I had all these journalists ringing – I was even on page three of The Scottish Sun,” she chuckled.

And there’s another similarity to Geraldine that gives her a giggle.

“The Vicar of Dibley had a picture of Sean Bean pinned up on the wall – I’ve gone one better!” said Elspeth.

“I’ve got a full-size cardboard cut-out of Sam Heughan – I’ve upgraded Sean Bean!”

Sam Heughan is, of course, the hunky star of the hit TV series Outlander, which is filmed on location around Scotland and in the studios in Cumbernauld.

So is that why she chose her new parish?

She laughs loudly at that suggestion.

“I wouldn’t like to say!”she said. “God calls us to the strangest places!”

Elspeth has received an extremely warm welcome from her new parishioners and is delighted to be in the town.

“I have loved the month or so I have been here,” she said.

“To start with you are just gathering information and everyone has been very generous with that.”

When asked if she has more surprises up her sleeve for her new parish, she assured The Cumbernauld News readers that she won’t repeat the living nativity scene in their parish church.

“That was right for the parish I was in, which is a very rural location,” she said.

“You have to get to know a place before you can do silly things like take animals to church!

“But I’m sure something will happen at some point!”

Elspeth is relatively new to the ministry, having begun her training in 2010.

She has lived in Scotland since 1999, when she went to Aberdeen to study law.

She graduated with a degree in European Law but ended up staying in the city for 18 years, working at the University of Aberdeen.

While there, she met her husband, David Smith, who still lives in the city as he is professor of music at the university and they have a son, who is now 12.

She is now looking forward to getting to know her parishioners better and thanks everyone for their warm welcome.

“It was a lovely induction service,” she added. “Everyone has been fantastic and the manse is wonderful – the dogs love the big garden!

“Even my elderly rabbits are loving it!”