The charisma and complexity of Ted Scott

By on September 1, 2004

One of the many memorials during the summer for Archbishop Edward W. Scott – known simply as “Ted” in church and interfaith circles around the world – provided a glimpse into a phenomenon seldom seen outside the secular world: something akin to celebrity. It was evident at the Toronto service, held at St. James Cathedral, around the person of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town. Throngs of people, from priests and archdeacons to lay people and even non-churchgoers, mobbed the retired prelate, a hero to so many for his role in ending apartheid in South Africa and for his support of the downtrodden in his country and elsewhere. Whether they wanted a photograph with him, to shake his hand or simply get as close as possible, it is clear that the archbishop has “it,” the charisma and magnetism that makes others want to draw near. It is something more than celebrity. It is not just a matter of being well known. Often, it is the ability to make connections, to make a person feel like he or she is the only one in the room. Not everyone who accomplishes great things necessarily has “it.” Introverts – and there are many in the church – often lack that kind of presence. It is a quality that cannot be forced. That is not to take anything away from those not similarly blessed – the word charisma, after all, comes from the Greek charis or gift. Like another church leader a couple of millennia ago, Archbishop Tutu’s friend, Ted Scott, also had “it.” The man, small in stature, unassuming in nature, is remembered as a leader who eschewed the trappings of his office. He declined membership in elite business clubs and invited transients into his home. He held an office that obligated others to call him “Your Grace,” but asked simply to be called “Ted.” (Similarly, and even less reverently, Desmond Tutu once reportedly donned a purple T-shirt that read “Just call me Arch.”) That charisma and Archbishop Scott’s ability to make each person he met believe that they had made a connection, were also the ingredients that very likely brought so many people together in dioceses across the country to remember him. The Toronto service gathered the religious and the unchurched, interfaith and ecumenical partners and friends and colleagues with whom he crossed paths in his social justice and human rights work. Most could say they had met Archbishop Scott and many would also remember a connection they had made with him. The newly-elected primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, recalls that when he was a parish priest, he was asked to invite the primate, then Archbishop Scott, to a parish anniversary. He sent off the invitation, fully expecting the primate to decline politely. Instead, Archbishop Scott advised that he would not only attend, but that he was coming for three days. The primate and the parish priest spent most of the visit touring the parish and dropping in on unsuspecting parishioners. “Each one felt they made a personal connection with a human being, they did not simply meet a primate,” said Archbishop Hutchison. Also, colleagues who worked with him at the Anglican Church of Canada national office felt like they had the ear of the primate and they could, despite a schedule that frequently took him away from the office, bring a problem to him. Many, though, remember a different Ted Scott. Radical Compassion, Hugh McCullum’s recent biography of the former primate, depicts a man who was considered easily approachable by his colleagues and the public, yet often formal and remote with his children and wife, whom he reportedly told, “My work and the church will always come first.” His intense desire for collegiality and consensus could also drive people to distraction. One former colleague said in Radical Compassion , “I personally think he used consensus as an excuse for not having to make decisions,” and another suggested that same commitment to collegiality among the house of bishops allowed some conservatives to block women’s ordination to the priesthood for as long as they could. These contradictions add to the richness of the memory of the man and prevent us from recalling a “plaster saint,” to borrow a phrase from Lois Wilson, the former moderator of the United Church of Canada, who recently reviewed Radical Compassion for the Journal and read a lesson at the Toronto memorial. Many of those gathered in churches and cathedrals across Canada to memorialize Edward Walter Scott had their own stories and personal remembrances about him, all of which contribute to our collective memory of him. He was an admired leader, perhaps more complex than many knew, and an important instrument of change in the church, at home and abroad. He will be missed.

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