As the Reverend Calum Macdougall gave his final sermon at the two parish churches he has ministered in for almost two decades, Peeblesshire News reporter Hilary Scott caught up with the much-loved reverend as he heads off to pastures new.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. I have read and heard this scripture in many places over the years. It’s written in cards for encouragement and quoted to help and reassure those lost. But after speaking with Calum, and learning how he came to be the minister at Eddleston with Peebles Old Parish in the summer of 2001, it does seem his journey to Peeblesshire was part of God’s plan.

Calum had been with his previous church at St James, Portobello, for 20 years but had a strong sense that both he and the congregation needed fresh challenges.

The millennium marked the dawning of a new era for Calum, as he tells me of the events that unfolded following a special watchnight service on Hogmanay 2000.

“There was a brief social gathering in the church hall afterwards. I noticed there was a lady on her own and I went over to speak to her. She asked me about my ministry and I told her I had been in that church for all of my ministry up to that point. Immediately she looked me straight in the eye and told me I should be in Peebles,” said Calum.

“I hadn’t been aware that there was a vacancy here and asked her what she knew about it. “Nothing,” she said, “and I have never been to Peebles.” A few days later I asked a colleague from Peebles if there was a current vacancy, only to be told that Eddleston with Peebles Old was looking for a minister.”

Simultaneously an anonymous note, suggesting that Calum might be a suitable candidate to fill the vacancy, had been put through the letter box in the then vacant manse at Innerleithen Road and had been picked up by one of the elders who was collecting mail.

“Who knows whether the lady I had spoken to was responsible for the note but I think that is unlikely,” said Calum. "I like to think it was coincidence. God works in mysterious ways.”

Soon after this divine intervention, Calum arrived in Peebles to be interviewed for the post.

“There was deep snow on the ground and people were busy clearing the steps. I’ll never forget my first sight of the inside of the Old Parish Church. It seemed much bigger than I had expected.

“It struck me as beautiful in every respect, with magnificent stained glass and it had a very obvious atmosphere of peace and calm, a fact that has frequently been commented on in the visitors’ book.

“Later that day I went to Eddleston Church and straight away I was struck by the beauty of the building, outside and inside.”

Of course it didn’t take long for Calum and his wife Janet to settle in and he says he feels very blessed to have spent 18 years in the community.

“Peebles is such a vibrant town with a very strong community spirit. There’s a great sense of pride and so many people work hard to foster a sense of well-being. It has been an enormous privilege to be able to serve the communities of both Peebles and Eddleston in some small way. I love the fact that in the course of walking from one end of Peebles High Street to the other you can have anything up to six or seven conversations with people you meet. Janet and I have made so many good friends here both within and outwith the Church. It is a real wrench to leave because this has been our home but I know that very many of our friendships will continue.

Calum has fulfilled his calling in life and told me he cannot think of a more privileged way of life than ministry.

“To be able to be with people in their happiest moments and in their deepest sorrows is such an honour. I love people, I love getting to know people and finding connection with people and that is a huge part of pastoral ministry.”

I asked Calum about moments during his ministry when he feels there was an answer to prayer.

One tragic story stood out which led to Calum questioning his ability as a minister. “A young woman I knew well asked if I would conduct her wedding service. Tragically, on the day after the couple returned from their honeymoon, her husband was killed in a head-on collision.

“Never, before or since, have I seen anyone looking so ill with grief. I was aware of my serious inadequacies as I sought to minister to her and her family and in the following weeks, months and even years I found myself relying more and more on prayer until one day, out of the blue, she got in touch and told me she had met a lovely man and her relationship with him had turned her life around. A few months later I was thrilled to bits when I conducted their marriage.”

But Calum has gone through difficult battles himself as he tells me of his two “adventures” with cancer in the past six years.

He said: “In 2013 it was discovered, through the home testing kit supplied to the over 50s in Scotland that I had bowel cancer. I had major surgery followed by chemotherapy and was off work for six months as a result. The support, including prayers, that I received from my wife and family, from the two congregations as well as from the other local churches and from so many people in our very caring community, helped so much with my recovery.”

Earlier this year, this time as a result of a routine blood test, Calum was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which again required surgery. “Again the love and care of folk across the community has been a considerable aid to my recovery. I have decided to have no more similar adventures.”

Calum has embraced life in Peebles and everything that comes with it. Having twice served as Warden of the Cross Kirk in the town’s annual Beltane Festival celebrations, last year he was installed as Warden of Neidpath.

I remember listening to Calum’s speech as he graced the stage at Introduction Night. He light-heartedly described himself as a “stooriefit, an imposter, an infiltrator”.

But to the community he has served for 18 years, he has been a true Peeblean who richly deserved the honour for his years of unfailing dedication to the town and its people.

As to the future, Calum is looking forward to moving into his own house for the first time in 38 years, as he and Janet settle for retired life in Broughton. He’ll be swapping the clerical collar for an apron, as he hopes to improve his cooking skills and learn how to bake.

The final services in Eddleston and Peebles Old Parish tested Calum’s composure to the full. “I have to admit that I failed the test as my voice wavered and tears flowed.

“To leave behind the people I love and with whom I have been privileged to minister is heart-breaking and together we shed many tears. Leaving the communities of Peebles and Eddleston is very, very sad and I will miss so many folk who have been such an important part of my life throughout the years. The two churches and the two parish communities will always be in my heart.”

As a man who has served God for most of his life through ministry, I couldn’t let Calum start this new chapter until I asked just one last question, which was this – although it will be many years before you reach the gates of heaven, what do you think God will say to you?

Calum replied: “If and when I do reach the pearly gates I think God may say, as my teachers used to say on my school reports – 'could have done better', but adding, I hope, 'but I still love you, so come in'.”

And to that I say Amen.