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Obituary: Prebendary William Scott

31 July 2020


The Queen chats to Prebendary William Scott at the Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, on 15 July 2003

The Queen chats to Prebendary William Scott at the Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, on 15 July 2003

The Rt Revd Lord Chartres writes:

PREBENDARY William Sievwright Scott CVO, who died on 17 July, aged 74, was one of the most remarkable and beloved priests of his generation.

A mystery worshipper from the Ship of Fools website reported on one of Bill’s sermons one evensong at St Mary’s, Bourne Street. “Father Bill spoke very movingly of how love makes the beloved see the beauty within himself, and how this in relation to God can enrich our prayer.” It was a theme to which Bill constantly returned in his extensive ministry of pastoral care and spiritual direction. One woman recalled how, after a painful divorce, her life had been transformed by him. “I asked him what I needed to do to please the Lord. He said, ‘Allow Him to love you.’ What he said healed me.”

His gift for spiritual direction was deepened by the years that he spent as Chaplain to the Community of All Hallows at Ditchingham, in Norfolk. One of the Sisters writes: “Bill was never taken in by any pretence he might meet in us Sisters because he was utterly without pretence himself. Often, I found with him, very little needed to be said.”

Scott was born in Glasgow and never lost a soft Glaswegian lilt. He was ordained in the Scottish Episcopal Church and served his title at St Ninian’s. In 1973, he came south to a succession of parishes in Somerset. He had pondered whether he was being called to be a monk, and tried his vocation at the Anglican Benedictine community at Nashdom Abbey. He soon returned to parochial work, however, before being appointed Chaplain to the All Hallows Sisters in 1984.

In the early 1990s, in what must have been a psychic sauna bath, he moved from relative seclusion and a largely rural ministry to take charge of St Mary’s, Bourne Street, in the diocese of London. The combination of superb music and stately liturgy using the Anglican rite had made St Mary’s into one of the great Anglo-Catholic shrines in the capital. Cardinal Basil Hume once said that St Mary’s made his own cathedral look “like a Wesleyan preaching shop”. Bill succeeded a justly revered Vicar, the Revd John Gilling, but rapidly established his own gentle authority. Under his leadership, St Mary’s was unapologetically Anglo-Catholic, but everything was done, in his words, “decently and in order”.

Bill was never happier than when he was at the altar, caught up in the mystery and drawing people into communion with God. Out of the sanctuary, he was the life and soul of innumerable parties. His splendid Christmas Day lunches in the ample dining room of the presbytery always drew together a colourful cast of characters, both priests and lay people, who would otherwise have been alone. He set up a simple voucher system so that the many needy callers at the presbytery door could get a sandwich and a non-alcoholic drink at the corner shop.

He had all the essential gifts and characteristics that are necessary in a priest, but his organisational skills sometimes frustrated his curates. Engagements were recorded in pencil — not always legibly — in a small black diary to which only he had access. One curate lent him a book on time management, planning, and paperwork, but, when he asked for it back after a month had passed, Bill admitted that he had lost it in the clutter of his study.

After more than a decade at St Mary’s, Bill moved into royal service as Chaplain to the Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy, and this was followed in 2007 by his appointment to a galaxy of offices associated with the Chapel Royal at St James’s. He was Sub-Dean, Deputy Clerk of the Closet, Sub-Almoner, and Domestic Chaplain to the Queen at Buckingham Palace. In all these posts, he was hugely appreciated as someone who was never a courtier or a gossip, but a priest who earned the trust of everyone from the kitchen to the throne room. “If you can walk with kings nor lose the common touch” — Bill more than lived up to Kipling’s challenge. The Queen appointed him a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order when he retired in 2015.

The usual advice on retirement is to avoid places where one has previously served, but the current Vicar and people of St Mary’s embraced him once again with enthusiasm and gratitude. It was there, on 29 July, that a requiem mass was offered with as much colour and ceremony as is possible in these straitened times, and live-streamed to Bill’s countless friends. May light perpetual shine upon him.

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