Derry Bott moved to Prince Rupert for two years. 18 years later, he’s still living in the North Coast city. (Keili Bartlett / The Northern View)

Heart of Our City: Derry Bott’s journey from pew to pulpit

The minister serves Prince Rupert in more ways than one

It’s Saturday night and Derry Bott is standing at the grill, cooking 124 steaks.

Once a month, the legion branch in Prince Rupert hosts an affordable dinner for seniors. Bott, who is a professional chef, has been serving up delicious cuts at the legion for three years. This month so many people showed up, the legion had to turn some away.

“It’s nice that people enjoy it. We get a lot of the same people and there’s a lot of visiting going on, a lot of laughter, so it is a social evening as well. It gives them an opportunity to get out and have — I think — a decent meal. They obviously do too or they wouldn’t keep coming back,” Bott said with a laugh.

Almost 18 years ago, Bott and his wife Hazel moved their family to Prince Rupert for his job at the Highliner Inn, where he was a chef for 11 years.

“It was something I always wanted to be, right from a kid,” Bott said. “I could bake desserts and stuff that would turn out for me but wouldn’t turn out for my mom. Maybe I had the knack for it, but it was something I always wanted to be and that’s what I did for 39 years.”

Originally from central Alberta, Bott met his wife-to-be while he was studying in Calgary. From there, Derry and Hazel moved all over western Canada for work.

“I worked here and there and everywhere, dragged my wife all over the place. Edmonton, Red Deer, Prince George, Williams Lake, and finally here,” Bott said.

“I told my wife the next time we moved it was her decision. So we’re still here.”

The Bott family is mostly based in Alberta, so Derry and Hazel have made it their mission to get involved in their adopted community, wherever they find themselves. Soon after they were married, the couple got confirmed and baptized, and have belonged to the church ever since.

“Anytime we moved anywhere, that’s always the first place we go to,” Bott said.

In Prince Rupert, a pew three rows from the front quickly became their regular seat. That was until seven years ago when Bott traded his apron in and now stands before a different crowd — his congregation at First United Church.

READ MORE: Heart of Our City — Trish Banighen joins the club

When he began his journey from pew to pulpit, Bott was worried his fellow churchgoers wouldn’t be able to see him as their minister, but the transition was smoother than he expected. He had already been helping the hospice society as a co-facilitator for grief groups for a few years at that point.

“I’ve belonged to the church for almost 40 years and I’ve always had an interest in pastoral care, so I was quite often visiting [hospices] wherever I happened to be. I’m not sure exactly how I got into hospice but I enjoy it,” he said.

“I like visiting people. Through hospice, it’s almost an honour to be there at the end of life for somebody. In a way, I guess it’s satisfying that you were able to be there, particularly for somebody that doesn’t have a lot of family in this area. It’s always nice to be able to offer support.”

Much of Bott’s work, he notes, is in helping the community. When he’s not at church, Bott is the homelessness coordinator for Prince Rupert Aboriginal Community Services, where he helps facilitate grants and funding from the government for community projects. Recently, the North Coast Transition Society announced some of those funds are helping the extreme weather shelter in Prince Rupert keep its doors open for two months longer than scheduled.

The job involves a lot of paperwork, Bott said, but not as much as his master’s program through the Vancouver School of Theology.

“I’m looking forward to being done. We’re supposed to be life-long learners, but still, it would be nice to be finished that portion,” Bott said with a chuckle.

Studying theology is something he’s always wanted to do.

“As a designated lay minister, if I’m not working in a church, then I’m no longer a minister so to speak. Whereas if you have your masters, you get ordained and you’re a minister until you die,” Bott said.

“I find the more I learn, the more questions I have. About theology, about the Bible, about religion in general. It’s very interesting and I’m actually doing my masters through Aboriginal ministries. That makes it even more interesting because when I do go down for intensive courses, I’m taking them with people from Hawaii and all over the States, virtually all Indigenous peoples. It makes it interesting to have different faith backgrounds. There’re lots of different points of view. It’s wonderful.”

He points out that his own congregation is diverse and made up of many Indigenous people.

His course load is light this semester, with one class on the go, but Bott said even after his pending graduation, he thinks he’ll continue to take courses. As the chaplain for the legion and their go-to guy for a sizzling steak, Bott also has no plans to leave the kitchen.

“I think if you live in the community, you should be involved in it. Maybe not to the extent I’ve been, but if everybody got involved a little bit, it would make the community that much better.”

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Derry Bott stands by his former pew at the First United Church in Prince Rupert. He now spends the Sunday service behind the pulpit as minister. (Keili Bartlett / The Northern View)

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