A look at the formation of Ted, the leader

Published May 1, 2004

One receives from this book a very clear picture of the priorities of Archbishop Ted Scott. His primary attention was always given to the person in immediate need. One of the best of many stories in the book is told by Suzanne Rumsey, daughter of the incumbent at Christ Church, Cranbrook, B.C. At age 14 and alone at home with her nine-year-old brother, her doorbell rang and there was the primate, Ted Scott, calling in to say hello to her parents. In response to Ted’s inquiry as to how he was, the young boy said, “My fish tank isn’t working.” Soon they were calling him “Ted” and the fish tank got fixed.

This extraordinary attention to persons enabled Ted to humanize the staff relationships of the World Council of Churches; to be sensitive to the needs of outsiders in society such as aboriginal people in Canada and black South Africans and to refuse to label or demonize people who may have become polarized in a debate. In Radical Compassion, he is presented not as a radical, or a reformer, nor even a radical agent of change, but as one who works for renewal through consensus (sometimes to a fault), full collegiality with the bishops, and respect for the dignity of each person.

Thankfully, he is not presented as a plaster saint, even though committed to social justice and to the health of the church of Jesus Christ.

Radical Compassion

The Life and Times

of Archbishop Ted Scott

ABC Publishing

paper ISBN 1-55126-414-5 $34.95

cloth ISBN 1-55126-421-8 $49.95

The book raises the question as to what the appropriate stance of the church is on issues of social justice. Is it confrontation or ongoing dialogue on tough issues such as apartheid in South Africa or aboriginal issues in Canada? It gives a harrowing account of the price Ted and the Canadian churches paid for supporting the World Council of Churches’ Program to Combat Racism, as well as some inside glimpses of his work as moderator of that council. This work on the world stage paved the way for his appointment as one of the seven-member Eminent Persons Group set up in 1985 by the British Commonwealth to try to resolve the apartheid crisis in South Africa. This fascinating chapter marks the intense engagement of Ted Scott with one of the most critical issues the world had to face in his time.

The same questions of posture and style are raised around thorny internal issues of the church such as liturgical reform in the Anglican Communion over the introduction of the Book of Alternative Services, negotiations for church union with the United Church of Canada and the Church of Christ Disciples, or the current debate over blessings of same-sex unions. The book gives a comprehensive picture of the Christian formation of Ted Scott and what makes him tick: the tensions, responsibilities, opportunities and criticisms that are the lot of a primate over a 14-year period.

The book could have profited by painting a wider picture of the times with a broader brush, in order to set the context of Ted’s ministry. The Cold War was at its height, as was the attendant peace movement. The feminist movement and theology were exploding and structural analysis of patriarchy was starting to blossom. Human rights, refugees and immigration issues begged for Canadian attention because of dictatorships in Latin America and Asia. Sister faith communities posed theological challenges to Christian churches in Canada. The increased influence of the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization had important implications for the widening poverty gap. It is obvious that Ted was exposed to all these developments through his worldwide commitments, but although there are some references to these issues, they are not given the prominence they deserve in terms of the context of his times. It would have been helpful to have Ted’s perspective on these issues. But the book is already too hefty and somewhat repetitious in details. However, in spite of this critique, we can hope that the intriguing story of what is in this book will inspire an inward-looking church to engage again vigorously with the world that God so fiercely and tenderly loves. The Very Rev. Lois M. Wilson is a former moderator of the United Church of Canada and former president of the World Council of Churches.


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