Such pairings have all the delights and dangers of other fundamental relationships. They involve transference, admiration tinged with envy and anger; or they can sour so quickly that the curdling ruins not only the way the immediate circumstances are handled, but the future.
Allan Scott was my TI. He also became a friend which, like all good friendships, had contradictory elements. He taught me, he infuriated me, he coached me but, above all, he showed me a model that I could accept, adapt or reject. Inevitably I did a bit of each.
One aspect that became a plank of my ministry was that of end of life, death and funerals. By the grace of God, I felt a special calling to this and it has featured substantially in whatever faltering steps I have made as a priest.
Allan showed me the practicalities of anointing and the last rites. It is a privilege and honour to administer these but even more so when I was asked by Allan’s daughter, Anna, to do so for the man who had trained me. I did not do it according to Hoyle but do it I did. It was only later that I realised I had also commended my father to God’s care when he died years earlier.
It is not my practice to publish sermons—at least, not in the form they are originally composed. My first couple of books started as Good Friday addresses. In the happy coincidence of personal connections that can govern publishing, I mentioned the substance of one to an editor over a dinner. She asked for a pitch and I was delighted to see the transformed text—experience in broadcasting and print had taught me the original of one form does not suit the other—on display in a bookshop window.
All of which is a long apologia for presenting what follows. It was delivered at Allan’s funeral on February 8, 2021. A different take on it can be seen in the obituary I wrote in the Church Times.
Rest eternal grant unto him, O Lord…
'He was a bugger, but he was a bugger on the side of the angels.’ So said a long-serving clergy colleague from the Hackney Deanery, in which Allan Scott served for more than 25 years. It is not my job to canonise Allan or to condemn him. It is my hope to relate something of his life and to shine a light on his faith and see how that might relate to us.
We are greatly helped in the readings that have been selected for this requiem because the first and foremost responsibility for those in the catholic tradition is to pray for Allan and for the repose of the soul. Of course, this can seem odd that we would trouble the gracious and loving God with any concerns or supplications we have, but it comes from a deep-seated belief that is echoed in the story of the raising of Lazarus: that our brother is not dead but alive in a form and way that is beyond our understanding.
How did this life start? Just over 81 years ago, Allan (with two Ls, please) George was born in South Shields, the only child to parents he said died young. From that beginning he held tenaciously to his working class roots, no matter how arty-farty (a derogatory term from his lips) his tastes and lifestyle might have become.
He was steeped in the Anglo-Catholicism of the north-east, which can be somewhat more grounded than the sometimes rarefied expression of it in other places. It engages with place and people and work, a key expression of Allan’s understanding of mission. What is the reality of the place we find ourselves in? And of the people among whom we live and work? How can we move that and them on to grasp the challenges of Jesus in liturgy and its outworking in society?
Clearly for Allan this saw Christ’s transformation of society in a particular way. It takes the dead and seeks to convert it to life. He was a Socialist and a Christian, two aspects of his vocation which developed through his studies at Manchester University and priestly formation at Mirfield. He was ordained in 1963 and served his title at Bradford cum Beswick in Manchester. Unusually for the period, he went on to become Priest-in-Charge of the parish.
He surprised many by leaving stipendiary ministry to work for the newly formed charity Community Service Volunteers, now Volunteering Matters, seeing the transformation of young people’s lives as a priestly calling. He also served as an honorary priest in Bramhall and parishes in London.
Having married Elena in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1969 – their union led to the arrival of two daughters, Christina and Anna - he returned to parochial ministry when he was made Rector of St Mary’s, Stoke Newington. I want to pause there for a moment to highlight Elena’s support of Allan in his ministry. An intelligent woman, she supported him in many traditional roles while holding on to her independence. And to the girls he was, as he remained till his death, their Daddy. This should not surprise anyone, though many may have seen the sometimes hard, angular Allan in a different light.
That is important for us to remember today. Each of us has an angle, a view on an individual. It is inevitable that one’s experience or exposure dictates our memories but they can never be the whole picture. Only God has that.
Allan had a prophetic, mercurial and sometimes exasperating nature. Deeply intelligent, compassionate, caring, and dogged, sometimes to the point of a bluntness that could seem hurtful, he always sought to see the broader picture. His voracious reading and enthusiasm were all part of the mix.
Such was his commitment to discussion that if he had a point to make, or he disagreed with you, he would stop in his tracks while he walked, turn to face you and point that accusing finger that was so much of his weaponry.
He was committed to the development of the spiritual wellbeing of individuals in his care. Retreats, courses run by members of the congregation, not the clergy, and sometimes by those outside their circle. He involved parishioners in liturgy, and sought to deepen their prayer lives and involvement of the church in its wider roles in the community. And there was the visiting, visiting, visiting.
The offices were central to him, the presence of Jesus in the blessed sacrament, a devotion to our Lady, all the catholic expressions of a faith that he wanted others to grasp and grow in. He was detailed and arguably controlling in many of the wider parts of the parochial task: finances, organisation, meetings. Oh, those meetings! He would keep the most controversial elements till last. They went on far too long for my taste and one time I stood up and headed for the door. ‘Where do you think you’re going?’ he said. ‘To the pub,’ I responded. ‘It’s last orders in five minutes.’ We had been at it for nearly three hours since the mass had finished. Impossible to think of a PCC without a celebration of the Eucharist.
While intelligent and thoughtful, he could be as stubborn as the proverbial mule if he had made up his mind on a point and others did not agree with him. I won’t rehearse the times he and I locked horns but they both great fun and sometimes bruising at the same time. There were many things we did not agree about, such as the role of women in the ordained ministry, but it was a privilege to remain in close contact with him since he was my training incumbent, as he was to many others. He also nurtured and put forward a number of women for the ministry despite his reservations. He had a gift for friendship and, unlike many clergy, had no qualms about being friends of those in his care.
He drank too much, liked to socialise and party, ‘a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines’ (Isaiah 25:6), was very much to his taste. And work. His retirement project with Chomok Ali in the manufacture of clothing – often of high fashion – led him to mix his management skills with schmoozing on behalf of New Planet Fashions. He enjoyed all that and the shabby Allan that many of us knew transformed into a well turned out businessman.
All of this, of course, was under the searing arc of God’s love which calls us out of darkness into light, out of the shadows of death into light. Allan had his foibles—we all do—but he was passionate in serving God and wanting to share his understanding of how the life of Jesus could be transforming and transgressive.
Jesus acted quite oddly when he heard the news of his friend Lazarus’s illness. He went away, ensuring he would die, before going to visit Martha and Mary, the deceased’s sisters. In some ways, the division of labour of those sisters was reflected in Anna and Christina. Anna being on hand in person, Christina in Beijing the long distanced organising. Like the family of Lazarus, there have been ups and downs, with a highlight being his 80th birthday with friends and his daughters not all that long before his stroke which left him an invalid.
When Jesus stood at the tomb of his dead friend, he wept. ‘See how he loved him’. This is the love God has for us all. Particular, sometimes regretful, but powerful. So powerful that in this case Jesus calls Lazarus literally out of the grave and tells those around him to ‘Unbind him and let him go.’
God in Jesus does this for all of us. He may not respond to our agenda, doing what we want when we want it. But he calls us in love, a love that can shed tears, a love that took him to the place of deepest and darkest suffering. And, like the friend he called from the tomb, he burst from his own to call us again, to come to him and be part of that transforming life.
‘Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? ….No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:35-39)
- delivered at St Alban’s, Holborn on Monday February 8, 2021