The Rt Revd Edward Luscombe writes:
THE Revd Charles McAlester Copland was the oldest priests in the Scottish Episcopal Church when he died on 12 December, just four months short of his 100th birthday. He had served in the ministry for 75 years, and was a quintessential Episcopalian of the old school.
His father, Alexander Copland, had been a priest, and together their ministries spanned the whole of the 20th century. His mother, Williamina, was a daughter of the Chieftain of the Name and Arms of McAlester.
The young Charles was educated at Denstone College, where he was school captain. He went up to Corpus Christi, Cambridge, in 1930, to read History and Theology, before going on to Cuddesdon to train for the priesthood. A four-year curacy at Peterborough Parish Church, from 1934 to 1938, was followed by 15 years in the Episcopal Church Mission at Chanda, in the Nagpur diocese in India. He was head of the mission for the final ten years. He remained proud that the mission had produced two bishops for the Indian Church.
He and his wife, Wendy, whom he had married while on furlough in 1945, returned to Scotland in 1953, on his appointment as Rector of St Mary’s, Arbroath. He remained for six years, until his move to be Provost of St John’s Cathedral, Oban. He spent 20 years in the diocese of Argyll & The Isles, combining the provostship latterly with the office of Dean of the diocese. (He had canonries in three dioceses: at All Saints’ Cathedral, Nagpur; St Paul’s Cathedral, Dundee; and St John’s Cathedral, Oban.)
Charles Copland was an unashamed traditionalist: a member of Forward in Faith, and of the Scottish Church Gaelic and the Scottish Prayer Book Societies. He left instructions that his funeral should be from the Scottish Prayer Book, 1929. He made no secret of his dislike of some developments in Anglicanism, sending out missives that reflected his views. These were always typed on an ancient machine where the missing letters were filled in with ink. He used it to complete a history of the Chanda mission, and a later book on life there, India: Past glimpses of country life.
He remained remarkably fit. Even in his 90s, he took part in the annual charity swim in Kirriemuir. At school, he had been captain of rugby, and at university played for both his College XV and for the London Scottish B team. His outstanding sporting prowess, however, was in rifle shooting. He had gained his shooting colours at Denstone, and won a shooting Half-Blue at Cambridge. In 1932, he was a member of the Scottish Team that won the Elcho Shield. Between then and 1992, he represented his country at Bisley 31 times, on three occasions winning the Bisley Cup. He was a valued coach for the Scottish National Rifle Club.
Charles retired in 1979, firstly to Comrie in Perthshire, and then for 14 years to Kirriemuir in Angus. He was a familiar figure, with his McAlester kilt, and, on occasion, the bright-red stockings that he had worn in his rugby days, 80 years ago.
He and Wendy were kind and hospitable. She died in 2001, but he continued with his annual wine-and-cheese parties to which many friends were invited. The wine was his own, from a variety of flower and vegetable sources. Some of the vintages seemed to be 100 per cent proof.
He remained a faithful priest, continuing to say his daily Offices and Bible reading to the eve of his death.
The large congregation who braved the elements for his funeral in St Mary’s, Kirriemuir, came from all over Scotland and beyond, a witness to the fidelity of his ministry and the endurance of his friendships.