Royally honoured, Melrose minister Alistair revs up for red cassock day

Rev. Alastair Bennett of Melrose Parish Church who has been made a Queen's chaplin.
Rev. Alastair Bennett of Melrose Parish Church who has been made a Queen's chaplin.
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MELROSE minister the Rev Alistair Bennett will rub shoulders with royalty in his new job as chaplain to the Queen, writes Andrew Keddie.

“Although the position of Queen’s chaplain is essentially honorary, this is a very pleasant surprise,” said Mr Bennett this week after his appointment was confirmed in a letter from Buckingham Palace.

He had earlier been contacted by the Very Rev John Cairns, Dean of the Chapel Royal, asking him if he would accept the appointment.

“It was an easy decision to say ‘yes’,” recalled Mr Bennett, 58, who has been the Church of Scotland minister at Melrose since 1984.

“A vacancy had come up in the Queen’s ecclesiastical household because Queen’s chaplains can only serve until they are 70 years old,” he explained. “Including the dean of the Chapel Royal, there are 10 chaplains in Scotland and 33 in the UK, so I am not alone.”

His new duties will include preaching before the monarch at Crathie Kirk when she is resident at Balmoral in September and October, and at other royal occasions in Scotland.

With the appointment, which acknowledges long and distinguished service, comes a new dress code for Mr Bennett.

“Instead of wearing my traditional black cassock at services, I will wear a special red cassock with a badge consisting of the royal cypher and crown within an oval wreath,” he revealed.

“The new cassock is being tailored, but I expect to receive it before Christmas. There will then be a formal service of installation.”

Mr Bennett has already received the congratulations of his colleagues in the Presbytery of Melrose and Peebles, of which he was moderator in 1994.

Born in Bridge of Allan, he graduated with a BSc in maths at St Andrew’s University before completing his Bachelor of Divinity degree in Edinburgh.

His first calling was to St Michael’s in Linlithgow where he was assistant minister to the Very Rev David Steel, the late father of Lord Steel of Aikwood.

He then took up a charge in Hamilton before coming to Melrose in 1984.

Married to Judi and with three grown up children, Mr Bennett was a member of the Church of Scotland’s Board of World Mission, overseeing in 2003 the £12million construction of an hotel, visitor centre and church at Tiberias on the shores of the Sea of Galilee: the focus of the Kirk’s work in the Holy Land.

He also served as many years as a non-executive member of the Borders Health Board.

“I’m very touched by the messages of congratulations I have received and my family, naturally, is delighted,” he told us.