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Obituary: The Revd David Shepherd

21 May 2021

The Rt Revd Ted Luscombe writes:

THE Revd David Shepherd, who died on 27 March, aged 78, was one of the diminishing number of Scottish clergy to serve their whole ministry in one diocese.

He was born in Bolton-le-Sands in 1942. On leaving Abottsholme School, he spent three years at St John’s College, Durham, graduating in 1965. He later added an MA, and then an M.Litt. for a thesis on the Yugoslav Royal Family. After a gap year in the Probation Service, he joined Edinburgh Theological College, where the Principal was Kenneth Woollcombe, later Bishop of Oxford.

David arrived in Dundee in the diocese of Brechin in 1968, to serve a title as curate of St Paul’s Cathedral, Dundee. Several of his maternal forebears had ministered in the diocese, including a bishop, a dean, and a former Provost of St Paul’s. He remained at the cathedral for 11 years, during which time he exercised a remarkable ministry among young people both in the cathedral and in his chaplaincy in the University of Dundee.

In June 1979, he was appointed Rector of St Mary Magdalene’s in the city of Dundee. This was a large building that had formerly been a Catholic Apostolic Church. In 1954, an Episcopalian congregation had moved from Hawkhill, at one time reputed to be the most overcrowded area in Europe. Over the years, the building had become rather forlorn, and a recommendation was made that it should be closed. His appointment was an act of faith.

I remember clearly the evening of his institution. The church was dark and dismal, and many of the lights were not working. Under David’s guidance, the building was transformed into a place of beauty — including the replacement of the windows with stained glass. But, important as that was, the building was not the church, but the people, and it was to their care that he was being instituted.

As a rector, David received the same commission as that given to St Peter — “Feed my lambs, tend my shearlings, tend my sheep.” During his rectorship, the baptismal register showed no fewer than 850 lambs nurtured and in their baptism given grace to live Christian lives.

And there were the shearlings, those young and sometimes wayward members of the flock. In the halcyon days of the 1960s at St Paul’s Cathedral, his Sixty-Nine Club had to be restricted to 150 members meeting regularly in the halls. He spent six fruitful years as Chaplain to Anglican Students at Dundee University, some of whom stayed in contact for the rest of his life. Four ordinands came from those years.

Then — “Feed my sheep.” The ordinary, routine day-to-day care of the flock —visiting, preaching, teaching, comforting, and ministering to them to the end. Some 1300 funerals, nearly all of them loved by their shepherd and loving in return.

Beyond St Mary Magdalene’s, David’s hospital chaplaincy was exemplary. During his 16 years as Chairman of St Serf’s Retirement Home, a major extension was completed, the books were balanced; it was facility of which the Church was proud. He was of great assistance in chaplaincy to the Burma Star Association.

He had a particular interest in lists and tables and would have made a good statistician. At the beginning of Advent, he would always produce for the ensuing year a table of lessons, readers, hymns, and music. Although not musical himself, he appreciated good music, and loved listening to the Mahler symphonies and classical liturgical music.

His principal recreation was in writing detective novels — 15 of them altogether. He produced four very interesting and well-illustrated books for the Sunday school. In 2018, he published the first of three volumes of autobiography, Shepherd’s Delight. He left the other two volumes almost ready to go to print.

David’s letters are never likely to be forgotten, and would on occasion have been better written on asbestos paper. The seven bishops under whom he served were not exempt from what he euphemistically described as “constructive criticism”.

In 1986, he married Patricia, who was a constant, yet unobtrusive, support and mainstay throughout his ministry. Sadlym his last few years were dogged by a progressively disabling cancer, through which he was devotedly nursed by Patricia.

He retired on Easter Day 2020 after 40 years at St Mary Magdalene’s.

He was 78 when he died and had been a priest for more than 40 years. He leaves a wide circle of grateful Episcopalians.

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