Obituaries: Rev Bill Shannon, retired Church of Scotland minister who practised a broad-minded, pragmatic Christianity

​Rev Bill Shannon, minister. Born: 3 October, 1929 in Bellshill, Lanarkshire. Died: 9 February, 2024 in Pitlochry, Perthshire

The Rev Bill Shannon – retired minister of Netherton St Matthew’s, Knightswood; St George’s Tron, Glasgow; and Pitlochry Parish Church – has died aged 94.

Childhood privations – he was the son of a miner, who died of an industry-related disease when Bill was only five years old – forged his outlook and ministry. Ably assisted by his wife, Betsy, he practiced a broad-minded, pragmatic Christianity more concerned with rolling up sleeves and helping where help was needed than with high theological imponderables.

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Bellshill Academy recognised his early potential and persuaded his mother to keep him in education rather than follow the expected descent into mining. Bill justified this faith, becoming Dux of the school in 1947 and gaining a place at Glasgow University.

​Rev Bill Shannon seemed happiest braving the elements to preach the gospel outdoors​Rev Bill Shannon seemed happiest braving the elements to preach the gospel outdoors
​Rev Bill Shannon seemed happiest braving the elements to preach the gospel outdoors

At first studying Maths and Physics in the Faculty of Science, he found his true calling in Divinity through the evangelism of Rev Dr D.P. Thomson and, especially, through the inspirational social work and ministry of Rev Tom Allan in North Kelvinside.

Appointed Secretary of the Tell Scotland Movement Committee in his probationary year, Bill later organised the innovative cinema broadcast relays from the Kelvin Hall for the memorable All Scotland Crusade.

Ordained a minister at Netherton St Matthew’s Church, Knightswood in 1955, Bill led an energetic and lively church, "shocking” some parishioners by racing to his visits on a second-hand motorbike.

In 1962, he joined the Rev Tom Allan as colleague minister at St George’s Tron, Buchanan Street, helping to build an unusually large and diverse congregation reflecting the, often challenging, realities of life in Glasgow city centre.

In the face of rampant social problems – crime, homelessness, prostitution, drugs and alcohol abuse – St George’s Tron offered spiritual solace, excluding no-one from its Christian welcome, and non-judgemental practical help, culminating in the establishment of the Tom Allan Counselling Centre and the Glasgow Lodging House Mission.

When Mr Allan suffered his first heart attack, four years before his untimely death in 1965, Bill’s responsibilities grew – with daily worship, Bible Study, lunch-time services, demanding social work and crowded Sunday Services.

In contrast to his experiences in the soot-blackened Glasgow of the 1960s, Bill’s next Church of Scotland appointments would see him spend the rest of his life relishing the fresh air of rural Perthshire and the unreliably sunny beaches of Scotland with the Summer Mission.

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First in Crieff, Bill was appointed Warden of the St Ninian’s Lay Training centre in 1966. There, he oversaw the complete reconstruction of the building and record numbers of over 4,000 Scottish and international trainee visitors annually to the innovative facility.

Then in 1973, Bill was inducted to Moulin and Pitlochry West Church where he remained until officially retiring as minister, after amalgamations, of Pitlochry Parish Church in 1998 to spend many subsequent years as a locum minister.

Notable initiatives – with the support of key members of the community – included the first purchase of a community bus for senior citizens, and the establishment of The Tryst, opened in 1996 – a well-equipped and well-used resource for church and community.

For christenings, weddings, funerals and the untold joys and sorrows in between, the church can be a fulcrum for the community and the minister a witness. If this was ever a burden, as well as a privilege, Bill wore it lightly. His ministry took him from Addis Ababa (for the World Assembly of the United Bible Societies in 1972) to Mount Zion (leading a party to the Holy Land as well as being the local nickname for the clocktower church on a knoll in Pitlochry).

He preached in living rooms, hospitals, prisons, cathedrals and once for the late Queen at Crathie Kirk, but seemed happiest braving the elements to spread the gospel outdoors.

He ran a weekly ‘Songs of Praise’ service in the summer months at the Recreation Ground in Pitlochry. And, leading many Summer Missions, preached to holidaying crowds on hilltops, caravan parks, and the sands of Aberdeen, St Andrews, Ayr and Girvan among others.

Blessed with boundless energy, Bill was a member of Bellshill Academy’s schools cup-winning football team, a keen tennis player and ardent supporter of Andy Murray, and an expert and passionate skier. Only rarely did he reach the ski nirvana of the Swiss Alps – more often he could be found on the windswept, sleety slopes of Glenshee or Cairngorm.

Typically, he wanted to share his enthusiasm and, complete with a ski instructors’ qualification, patiently guided adults and children through beginners’ snowploughing to advanced slalom. He led the popular Saturday Ski Club for 13 winters, driving skiers to the slopes in a makeshift transit van fitted with old wooden pews bolted to its floor. Leaving and returning in the dark, he’d drop everyone off, arrive home for tea, then write his Sunday sermon.

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Bill enjoyed a long and happy retirement with Betsy from North Kelvinside, whom he married in 1954 and raised a family of three boys. The love and support she brought to his life and ministry, he acknowledged, was immeasurable.

In his final years – before he moved into the care and compassion of Balhousie Care Home – Bill would sit in his favourite chair by the window at home, with a picture postcard view of Ben y Vrackie and marvel at the changing seasons and mercurial skies.


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