In late Autumn 1998, Erik and I met for the first time with Father Bill Scott, the vicar for St Barnabas Church in Pimlico. We were planning our wedding and having scouted a few churches and discounting the one with the drum kit we fell for St Barnabas and especially for the (Scottish) Reverend Scott. I didn’t even flinch too much when he gave us a marriage/partnership workbook to go through. We were sitting in his study one evening after work, talking about our respective families and he asked about my dad. When I told him my dad had died just over a year earlier, in August 1997, Father Scott gently said ‘oh, that’s very recent’. I’ve never forgotten it, nor the way it made me feel. No-one had ever before suggested that something that happened over a year before might still be classed as ‘recent’ and might still affect me. At the time it felt like I’d mourned the loss of Princess Diana more than my own father, so I was pretty sure I’d dealt with it all and moved on.
Our wedding day was exceptional. This beautiful church, the love of my life in his top hat and tails, friends from every corner of my life. And a vicar who made everyone feel welcome while also creating an intimate space for us to exchange our vows. I’m sure Erik remembers the part of the service where the congregation is asked if anyone knows of ‘any just cause or impediment why these two people should not be joined in holy matrimony…’
The congregation was silent. Father Scott whispered ‘that’s good’, and gave us a wink. It was the loveliest moment and it typified the day and the way he was able to balance the solemnity of the vows with the joy of the occasion. It was to our great pride that he accepted our invitation to come to our wedding reception at the Goring Hotel. He didn’t just stop in to say hello, he stayed for the whole thing.
As I started writing this I wondered where Father Scott was now, and sadly discovered this headline from The Daily Telegraph, last July 12th, 2020.
The Rev Prebendary Bill Scott, warm-hearted High-Church priest and chaplain to the Queen – obituary
Clearly he wasn’t just a remarkable man in my eyes. I’m so sad that he passed away last year at only 74, but goodness what a life. I feel irrationally proud that this man who married us twenty one and a half years ago in a fairly simple Parish Church then went on to become Chaplain to the Queen. And to then read that from 2007 to 2015 he was the only priest serving full-time in the Royal Household. I hope they all realised just how fortunate they were to have him. But as proud as I am, I’m also not surprised because our wedding had many links to the Royal Family. We held our wedding reception at the beautiful Goring Hotel, which was also the venue for the Queen Mother’s weekly afternoon teas, organized by hotel manager David Morgan-Hewitt, who also happened to be our wedding planner. The night before the wedding, I stayed in a Junior Suite at the Goring with my two bridesmaids, Rebecca and Rachel, an idea that was copied by Kate Middleton the night before her big bash at Westminster Abbey many years later.
If you would like to read more about him, I’ve pasted Reverend Scott’s obituary at the end of this post (we are not mentioned).
He has been much on my mind this past week as I approach the one year anniversary of my mum’s death. My brain has been stuck on a loop of sadness, remorse, and deep deep homesickness for a place that doesn’t exist anymore.
One year anniversaries commemorating loss are weird. Twelve months is a long time. A lot happens, even during a pandemic, and yet when the actual date rolls around again, it all feels horribly fresh and raw and you replay the before days and the after days. This time last year was miserable. Aside from the state of the world, we were having a nightmare with our courtyard repaving and our contractor ABC. What was promised to be a simple 1-2 week job took four months and my talent for obsessive thinking and calamitous outcomes was on full display. In the middle of December my brother called to say that mum’s care home had its first cases of Covid and mum was among them. But she was still eating and drinking and only had a mild cough. She had made it through so many health crises over the past 15 years that this seemed like another one that she would miraculously survive. Less than two weeks later, on December 28th, she died, aged 94.
Two days after that was my birthday. Never a cause of huge celebration for me, nor I would imagine to my birth mother, I certainly couldn’t stomach any kind of birthday wishes from Facebook. I managed to turn off the notifications just in time and will never be turning this feature on again. A few greetings still slipped through, including from people who knew that my mum had just died, making their ‘have a great day’ message feel a bit thoughtless at best.
Over the course of 20 years of flying home two to three times a year to see my mum, December was always my favorite month to visit. The nostalgia of a British Christmas is so potent. It’s the time of year I feel most out of place in Texas and the most at home in England. On a practical note it was also the best time to visit the care home. More activities, more entertainers, more decorations, more singing. More ways for me to be involved/distracted. It just made an often difficult and stressful visit a lot easier and at the end I could stuff my suitcase with M&S comestibles and recreate some of those traditions back in Austin with Erik and two of our closest friends. In 2019 I changed plans and instead visited in October, with a plan to return in February. I never imagined that the October visit would be the last time I saw her. We canceled the February trip because of Erik’s mother’s illness and then Covid shut down our travel options. I still regret my decision that meant I was unable to say goodbye. Thanks to another rather wonderful Reverend, we were at least able to create a funeral service that felt as fitting for mum as it did for my brother and me.
But I’m still desperate to be there right now. I want to see my brother, I want to let loose and be myself with friends, I want to hear Band Aid and Slade and Wham playing on the radio, I want to buy every size of Cadbury’s milk chocolate and eat family bags of Revels, I want to wear woolly tights and boots and buy a new winter coat that I don’t need, I want to drink red wine in a pub and eat some gussied up flavour of crisps. I want to order tea without having to specify it being hot, I want to get irritated by tourists taking too long to figure out where they’re going, I want to buy a tin of Quality Street, even though it’s a total rip-off, and sausage rolls even though I don’t eat pork.
Yeah, I know. This too shall pass. A new year is coming. But right now the loss still feels painfully recent and I’ll be forever grateful to Father Scott for my being able to say that. So I’m sending love to everyone who is missing his presence, and to my all too many friends who are spending their first holiday season without their person.
Scott: fostered vocations
The Rev Prebendary Bill Scott, who has died aged 74, was an Anglican priest whose career took him from a curacy in the Gorbals via chaplaincy in a convent and the incumbency of High-Church parishes to the Chapels Royal.
He exercised a much-valued ministry to the Royal Household over a period of 17 years, which extended even into retirement, and he was still an Extra Chaplain to the Queen at the time of his death. In a world where it would be easy to be obsequious, he was renowned as warm-hearted and not at all pompous. It is said that in a moment of typically self-deprecating humour, he summed up his life’s work as “ministry to nuns and queens”.
William Sievwright Scott, always known as Bill, was born in Glasgow on February 1 1946. His middle name was his mother Amelia’s maiden name; his father, David, was a marine engine fitter.
Following education at Harris Academy, Dundee, and sensing a vocation to Holy Orders awakened by the experience of reading a lesson at the school carol service, he trained for ministry at Edinburgh Theological College.
Bill Scott with the Queen
He was ordained in 1971 to a curacy in the tough Gorbals parish of St Ninian, followed by a second curacy on a large and challenging new housing estate at Bridgwater in Somerset. Deeply prayerful and spiritual, he briefly explored the possibility of espousing the monastic life at Nashdom Abbey, but decided against. From 1973 to 1984 he undertook the oversight of several Somerset village parishes.
The attraction of the religious life was not, however, totally dimmed. In 1984 Scott left Somerset for Norfolk to be full-time chaplain to the convent of All Hallows, Ditchingham, which involved ministry to the associated girls’ school and a hospital, as well as to what was then a thriving and active community of nuns. During his time there he helped to foster a number of vocations to the novitiate, though the convent is now closed and the few remaining sisters dispersed as “solitary religious”.
Scott’s high-church leanings made him a natural fit for the incumbency of the “more Roman than Rome” church of St Mary, Bourne Street, near Sloane Square in London. He arrived there in 1991 and also assumed responsibility for the parish of St Barnabas, Pimlico, in 1997, along with the role of Area Dean of Westminster (St Margaret).
Scott’s career began in the Gorbals and ended in the Chapel Royal
As well as his love of the liturgy and down-to-earth preaching, Scott’s pastoral ministry of welcome and hospitality was greatly appreciated, not least his serving of kir royale after Sunday Mass.
The Church of England’s decision to ordain women as priests was difficult for Scott, but he decided to remain within the Anglican fold.
In 2002 Scott was invited by the Duchy of Lancaster to become Chaplain at the ancient Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy, adjacent to the hotel, and to the Royal Victorian Order. One year later he became a chaplain to the Queen.
His most significant appointment was as Sub-Dean of Her Majesty’s Chapels Royal, a post he held from 2007 to 2015, which also comprised the roles of Deputy Clerk of the Closet, Sub-Almoner and Domestic Chaplain to The Queen. As such, he was the only priest serving full-time in the Royal Household. His duties included providing spiritual and pastoral care for the Sovereign and the staff of the palaces and responsibility for the daily operation of the royal chapels.
Scott, third left, at the 2011 Royal Maundy Service in Westminster Abbey CREDIT: Arthur Edwards/WPA Pool/Getty Images
He particularly supported and encouraged the chapel choirs and other musicians and, in his capacity as Sub-Almoner, also played a leading part in the planning of the annual services for the distribution of the Royal Maundy money.
Shortly before he retired from full-time ministry he was appointed CVO.
From 1991 to 2007 he also served as chaplain to the Priory of Our Lady at Walsingham. He was made a prebendary (honorary canon) of St Paul’s Cathedral in 2000, becoming Prebendary Emeritus upon his retirement in 2015. He was always in great demand as a spiritual director, confessor and counsellor.
Along with making and listening to music, Scott was an avid reader of novels and poetry and counted the conducting of retreats as a recreation. For his 70th birthday he hosted a huge party at the Savile Club, of which he was a member.
Bill Scott resolutely fended off the hopeful attention of lady admirers in his congregations and remained unmarried.
The Rev Prebendary Bill Scott, born February 1 1946, died July 12 2020
A comforting and humorous read. Understood by anyone who has lost family and more poignant for those caught in the physical separation from this pandemic. Thank you Maggie for your continuous illuminating prose.