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Scenes from Clerical Life (14) Bishop Francis Moncrieff

June 15, 2009

While I was preparing to be ordained, I met Bishop Francis Moncrieff, Bishop of Glasgow & Galloway, and later also Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church. He was a tall, rather gaunt figure, seemingly distant at first. He had been Rector of St Salvador’s Church in Edinburgh where, some years later, I was Assistant Priest, and was a solid Anglo-Catholic. So when I heard he was conducting a Retreat at the Covent of the St Peter’s Sisters in Walkerburn in the Scottish Borders, I was determined to attend.

The trouble was that the retreat was only for the members of the Anglican Society of Glasgow University. However, I wrote to their secretary, Pat McBryde, to ask if they had room for one more, little realizing that Pat and I were to become lifelong friends from this first contact (such  are the ways of God). She consulted Bishop Francis, and he agreed to let me join their group. It was a silent retreat and one that I have never forgotten, though I have been to many since, and indeed conducted quite a few. The Bishop had what can only be called “presence” and he had an enormous influence not just on me but on many other young people in his care.

Although Bishop Moncrieff seemed a bit other-worldly, he had a wicked sense of humour. A few years later, just after the new reforms of the Second Vatican Council were changing the Roman Catholic Liturgy, he found himself at a Mass for the Unity of the Church in the Catholic Cathedral in Glasgow. He was seated up in the sanctuary near the High Altar with the Presbyterian Minister who was that year’s Moderator of the Glasgow Presbytery (something in itself a daring change, in a city where the animosity between “Papes” and “Proddies” spilled over into the two great soccer teams, Rangers and Celtic). The newly revived “Kiss of Peace” began to be exchanged in the congregation, and suddenly everyone was shaking hands or hugging one another. The Moderator turned to Francis and said: “What on earth is happening?” Francis looked down his aristocratic nose, sniffed and drawled: “Oh, I suppose someone must have scored a goal”!

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