University of St Andrews alumni remember their student days

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Fabulous photograph slideshow with audio monologues by St Andrews’ alumni and alumnae Siobhan Redmond, Brian Taylor, Rosemary Goring and Hazel Irvine.

I was a Divinity undergraduate at St Andrews between 1989–1993, graduating with a 2:1 Bachelor of Divinity in Practical Theology and Christian Ethics. I returned in 2006 to work as Assistant Information Architect/Web Manager.

St Andrews is a fabulous place to live and study in, and a fabulous place and work.

I had always assumed that I would go to university in Edinburgh, but after an open day at St Mary’s College in 1988 that all changed: St Andrews was the place for me. It was small and intimate. The kind of place that a quiet, wee Scottish Borders lad like me could cope with, without feeling overwhelmed by a noisy, busy city.

I feel immensely proud of being a University of St Andrews‘ graduate.

(Thanks for my colleague Duncan Stephen (@DuncanBSS on Twitter) for the heads-up on this BBC Scotland article.)

St Andrews prepares for the Royal Wedding celebrations

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St Andrews has been buzzing with activity all week, in preparation for the Royal Wedding 465 miles away in Westminster Abbey, London.

All week the streets have been packed with visitors, and the shop windows have slowly turning red, white and blue.

This morning TV crews started arriving, parking—as they do—outside my office window and raising the giant satellite dishes on the roofs of their vans.

This afternoon, as I returned from lunch, St Salvator’s quadrangle was quite literally a-bit-loud-in-a-white-noisey-kind-of-a-way, as though the entire squadron from Leuchars was passing through the quad, as three stages and a “large outdoor screen” were installed.

The photo above is how things looked at 17:15 this afternoon.

At 07:30 tomorrow morning the quad will begin filling with guests as they prepare for The Royal Wedding Breakfast at St Andrews.

Check out the programme via the University’s press release Romance made in St Andrews.

Ash Wednesday

Priest, Deacon and Subdeacon standing before the altar

Priest, deacon and subdeacon standing before the altar, taken from Ceremonial Pictured in Photographs (Alcuin Club Publication)

This evening I was involved in my first Solemn Eucharist at All Saints’ Church, St Andrews, where I took the role of deacon during the liturgy of the imposition of ashes and Solemn Eucharist; my first Solemn Eucharist since I left St Andrews Cathedral, Inverness in 2003.

A moving experience

I found it a very moving service, and one that I was easily able to enter into without being overly distracted by where I should be or what I should be doing next. But that I put down to trust in my fellow ministers of the sacrament, the priest and subdeacon, who gently guided me and prompted me when required.

Like when I forgot to say the offertory sentence and just began to lay out the altar in preparation for the Eucharist.

“Offertory sentence,” Fr Jonathan prompted me.

“Oh! Sorry!” I said, pulling an apologetic face that probably made me look like I should be in a scene from Wallace and Gromit.

I turned to the congregation. And then back at Fr Jonathan. “What is the offertory sentence?”

He smiled. “Let us present our offerings to the Lord with reverence and godly fear.”

I turned back towards the congregation. “Let us present our offerings to the Lord with reverence and godly fear,” I said before returning to ‘setting the table’.

But I digress.

I found it a very moving service and a perfect start to Lent.

Our observation of Lent

I don’t have the words before me that were used during the service this evening, but here are similar words that I’ve used in Ash Wednesday services before, taken from the Church of England book Lent, Holy Week, Easter: Services and Prayers (Church House Publishing/SPCK, London, 1986):

Brothers and sisters in Christ: since early days Christians have observed with great devotion the time of our Lord’s passion and resurrection.  It became the custom of the Church to prepare for this by a season of penitence and fasting.

At first this season of Lent was observed by those who were preparing for Baptism at Easter and by those who were to be restored to the Church’s fellowship from which they had been separated through sin. In course of time the Church came to recognize that, by a careful keeping of these days, all Christians might take to heart the call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel, and so grow in faith and in devotion to our Lord.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word.

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

What really spoke to me was the Hebrew Bible reading from the prophet Joel:

[12] Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

[13] rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing […]

[17] Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.
Let them say, ‘Spare your people, O Lord,
and do not make your heritage a mockery,
a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
“Where is their God?”‘

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 1996)

The sentence that stuck out for me most was in verse 13: “rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love”.

Rend your hearts not your clothing. Lent is about a change of mind, a change of heart. It’s an internal thing, not external. The external comes later, once the heart has been changed.

“Remember that you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.
Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.”

With those thoughts in mind I now feel prepared to enter Lent.

Finding community at All Saints

High altar at All Saints, St Andrews
The high altar at All Saints, St Andrews (Photo from All Saints’ website)

This evening, after work, I presided at the 18:00 Eucharist at All Saints, St Andrews. It was a quiet, reflective service at the end of, for me, a pretty tough day.  It was, in the words of the Compline service, “a quiet night and a perfect end”.

Six of us gathered around the high altar, used the 1982 Scottish Liturgy, remembered David, King of Scots (1153) whose feast day it is today in the Scottish calendar, and prayed for the world, the sick and the church. A simple said communion service.

Formation of community

All Saints holds a special place in my heart, and in my formation as a priest, because it was the first place that I really experienced community, other than that of a whole congregation.

Between my first and fourth years at the University of St Andrews (probably sometime between 1990-1993) I would say Evening Prayer in the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament with three friends and colleagues at St Mary’s College: David Campbell, Clive Case and the late Simon Gould.

We used the Church of England’s Alternative Service Book which for me was a good discipline: an introduction to using an unfamiliar liturgy.  Some evenings we used incense, most evenings not. Fr Brian Hardy, the (church not university) Rector at the time, joined us when he could.

I very much enjoyed our community of four.  I look back with great fondness on those years and both the discipline that it instilled in me, and the structure that it gave my day.

Returning to community

Leaving full-time parish ministry in 2006 was both one of the hardest and easiest decisions of my life.  On one hand it was easy because there was much in that way of life that I found painful and uncomfortable, on the other it was difficult because so much of my identity and security was wrapped up in that role.  (Letting go of that and learning to trust God more was an important step.)  The decision to leave took me about two years to make. There were many tears on that journey.

What I did miss most over the next four years, however, was feeling that I belonged to a particular Christian community.

Starting in 2006 and extending through to early 2010, I covered services at Newport-on-Tay quite a bit.  They were a lovely congregation to worship amongst and I found that time to be in many ways a healing time for me.  But when they got a permanent priest I took a few months out to decide what to do.

It was actually my involvement in the Scottish Episcopal Church’s Provincial Youth Network summer camp at Glenalmond College in August that inspired me to start attending All Saints again.  And Fr Jonathan who’d been offering me an altar to celebrate before for the last couple of years once again invited me to get involved… and here I am.  Six services in and already I feel like I belong. Thank you saintly people of All Saints.

The Rev Steven Mackie

The Rev Steven Mackie
The Rev Steven Mackie (27 December 1927 – 14 October 2010)

I was reorganizing my images folders on my PC this evening and came across this scan of a former Practical Theology lecturer of mine, The Rev Steven Mackie.

If I remember correctly I scanned this in 1992 after I had finished my final exams and was looking for creative ways to fill my days until the end of term.  The idea was to create some kind of Andy Warhol-style matrix of portraits and get some t-shirts printed as a fun way to say thank you to him for his support through the previous 4 years.

It never happened. I spent most of the week hanging out in the cathedral grounds with friends, or holed-up in the (then very new) computer room creating a satirical/nonsense newsletter.

Out of interest I ‘googled’ his name and discovered to my sadness that the Rev Steven Mackie died in October of last year, aged 82 years old.  His obituary in the Edinburgh Evening News said this about his time at St Andrews:

Steven was offered a post at St Andrews University to teach practical theology at Mary’s College, a post he held for 21 years until he retired to Edinburgh in 1995. He taught theology in a fully practical sense, relating it to social issues of the day. He was a gifted lecturer who made a deep impression on his students.

He did make a deep impression on his students. I was one of them, and I don’t have scanned photographs of any other of my former lecturers on my hard drive!

The first thing that I remember about Mr Mackie is that the first mistake that almost everyone made when they started at St Mary’s College was to pronounce his name “muh-KIE” (sounding like sky); the correct pronounciation was “MAH-kee”.

The second thing I remember is that his interests seemed to lie mostly in ecumenism and Liberation theology.  Two areas of Practical Theology (which I finally took my degree in) that I wasn’t particularly interested in as a 17 year old.  I kind of wish now that I’d paid a little more attention each week day between 10:00 and 11:00 during 1990-1991.

I remember Mr Mackie as a kind, very caring man who genuinely seemed interested in his students.

I was we’d made those t-shirts now.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.  And let perpetual light shine upon him.