If 42 is indeed the answer to life, the universe and everything, as Douglas Adams concluded, then Rev Mitchell Bunting has reached that goal.

He is retiring after 42 years serving communities throughout the UK and beyond and ending his ministering in Helensburgh, Dumbarton, Clydebank and Drumchapel.

And 42 is also the number of years of his United Reform Church existing in Scotland, with Bungie - as he is known to most - having watched its emergence decades ago.

"There's the role we were trained for,” he told before his final services, "which was a theologian - someone who can interpret the love of God for today - and a Bible scholar, so you can draw out the relevance of the Bible for today, rather than treating the Bible as a holy relic put on the mantlepiece.

“But what you end up being is a janitor, shifting furniture, fixing things, being an audio-visual engineer and a whole load of other life skills that you might have that you're able to bring in."

Bungie has been minister at the URC in Helensburgh and Dumbarton for the last six years. 

His final service at Helensburgh on May 28 was shared with all four of his congregations - Helensburgh, Dumbarton, Morison Memorial Church in Clydebank and Essenside URC in Drumchapel.

Clydebank Post: The congregation of Helensburgh URC wish retiring Rev Mitchell Bunting wellThe congregation of Helensburgh URC wish retiring Rev Mitchell Bunting well (Image: Mitchell Bunting)

One of the hymns at the final service had been written for Bungie by the late Rev Tom Colvin, titled, “We need your sense of humour, Lord”, inspired by Bungie’s self-taught clown ministry.

The church choir also sang a setting of the Aaronic Blessing by John Bell, which had been dedicated to Bungie for his ordination in 1985.

Bungie reflected in speaking to the congregation and on his career, which included spells working in Birmingham, Galilee, and Edinburgh.

He served as the Synod’s ecumenical officer before taking up posts on the west coast.

In an evening service, he used hymns and materials from the Iona Community, where his journey began.

It was on Iona that Bungie had his “turning point” while volunteering.

He later met his wife, Mandy, on Iona, and they went on to have three children, two of them born in Nazareth.

With two life-long friends who went on to become members of the Iona Community, he lived for a year in a council flat while working with the community around Ruchhill Parish Church in Glasgow.

All three of them went on to work in the church in some capacity, and Bungie then moved to south London for a year, where he “thrived” on learning Christian leadership.

There he got a chance to lead worship and said: “I want to do this.”

Within a year he was training for ministry.

What did he thrive on?

“Relationships with people and the chance to tell stories,” he said.

Clydebank Post: The congregation of Helensburgh URC wish retiring Rev Mitchell Bunting wellThe congregation of Helensburgh URC wish retiring Rev Mitchell Bunting well (Image: Mitchell Bunting)

At the same time he was developing a “clown ministry” - including storytelling, juggling, and street theatre - to further what he already found in the Bible.

“Jesus really inspired me by being able to speak to people without being pretentious, to be challenging without being offensive, most of the time,” he explained.

“The ministry of Jesus was the model."

Bungie said he wasn't really steeped in traditional Christianity, but instead was exposed as a teenager to political movements, such as the ecology moment, anti-nuclear campaigning and soon the anti-apartheid movement.

"We found Christian teaching was informing our political awareness," he said.

"The people we were meeting and the reading we were doing was helping us see a connection there, where so many others were saying 'oh, keep politics out of religion'.

"In other words, don't upset out tradition because that's the way we do things, rather than the liberating word of God.

"It's campaigning for a more just world. Christian Aid has been a major part of my life."

Bungie, who lives near Helensburgh and retired after he hit the age of 65, said he had a number of highlights to his career, but particularly being next to others when they were most in need.

"I do often refer to 'you're not alone’,” he said. “That can be taken both as a humanist or as a Christian statement.

“There's a solidarity with other people, but there's also a presence of God. I have often used that in my ministry to encourage people in times of distress that they are not alone, even in their deepest sorrow.

“It's not a word of comfort, because it doesn't mean the pain is going to go away. The pain is still there, the injustice is still there, but they're not alone.”

And that was something he tried to impart to his congregations, as well as their ability to change.

"The four churches I've ministered in are still alive," he said. "They survived lockdown. A lot of churches haven't.

"So with my retiring, the four churches I hope I have left in place that they are receptive and open to what God is calling them to do next.

"It's not what I've told them to do, it's what God's going to call them to do - and hopefully I've left them receptive to possibilities.

Clydebank Post: Rev Mitchell Bunting spent the last six years of his career based in HelensburghRev Mitchell Bunting spent the last six years of his career based in Helensburgh (Image: Newsquest)
"And the big thing I tried to teach them is that lockdown was a great challenge to churches, and to all of us, but something we did in lockdown is we all changed.

"And when lockdown finished, I was very quick to tell the people, 'you are really good at change, look how much you've changed; now apply that change creatively and don't revert without reason'.

"The church realising that change is possible and it's part of the way God moves us on."

In retirement, Bungie is putting his feet to pavement instead of up - with a 10k run planned, and then an Open University physics exam. He then plans to catch up on some scuba diving.

And he continues to display his sense of humour.

"Sense of humour has its place in storytelling people and teaching, and waking people up when they're nodding off," he quipped.

"I don't tell jokes. I try to share some of the humour in the Bible, which we're not really taught about, but it's full of daft things.

"It's celebrating the fullness and richness of life. Which is also part of the privilege I've felt over the years of helping grieving families particularly.

"The privilege of getting alongside a family when they are at their most vulnerable and just be welcomed in as an equal among them - not going as the priest who's going to fix all their problems, or the minister with the capital M, but just as another human being with a particular role to play in helping them process the grief."

So after 42 years, does Bungie feel he has the answer to life, the universe and everything?

"A good cup of coffee."