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.