Twenty Years On

It is funny how anniversaries creep up on you. It is twenty years ago this week since I went to read theology at the University of St Andrews. I can remember Freshers’ Week very clearly all these years later. Inevitably, some of those whom I met in the first few days there, I have lost touch with, but some of those I met very early on in that experience have proved to be friends for life.

Going to study at St Mary’s College in St Andrews changed me more than almost anything else that I’ve done. It was whilst I was there that I joined the Episcopal Church and became an Anglican, after carefully shopping around looking at the alternatives. My three years there also taught me to think clearly for myself, and I don’t think you can ask more from a unversity experience than that.

Theology at St Andrews in those days was a little different to how it is now, I think. It was generally a liberal, progressive, enquiring theology that was being laid in front of us. It was a common experience for people like me who came with fairly conservative theological presumptions to go through an experience of feeling a little lost for a while. All that one thought was open to question. Eventually, most of us managed to reconstruct ways of thinking, living and being out of the building blocks that the course offered. That experience for me was total. It was life-changing.

I’m grateful to those who taught me and those who experienced it with me. I wish I knew where to recommend to people to have the same experience now.

Sadly, I just don’t know.


  1. you stole my blog post.

  2. Steven Binns says

    Happy Anniversary !!

  3. Christina says

    How would you describe theology at St Andrews as you see it now?

  4. There are certainly more staff who seem to teach from a more conservative standpoint. The loss of Daphne Hampson to the college inevitably makes a difference to all the courses offered.

    Also, the college is much more significantly orientated towards postgrad students from the US. When I was there, a dominating influence was the cohort of Church of Scotland candidates.

    University teaching in Scotland has changed quite a lot since then. Semesterization has changed the relationship between learning and examination. (Tends towards more compartmentalised teaching). I suspect that class sizes, particularly at honours level are probably larger than I experienced.

    Another significant change that has affected the university experience is the need for a greater proportion of students to work during semester. Although I worked outside term time (usually as a glamorous office temp) I couldn’t have had the experience that I had if I had needed to work during term.

  5. Steven McQuitty says

    Come on Kelvin, where would you recommend – there must be somewhere?

  6. No, the awful thing is that I really don’t know where to recommend. [I note in passing that as much as I loved St Mary’s College in St Andrews, I hated New College in Edinburgh].

    The calibre of both students and teachers was what marked out my time at St Andrews and I don’t know where one might find that now.

    There is certainly some good teaching in Glasgow. But I’ve never known any student here describe their experience as I would describe my experience in St Andrews.

  7. Lesley says

    Can’t believe it is twenty years! Still you don’t look a day older….the salt air might have something to do with it.

  8. I think of the options, I would still choose St Andrews — but having done degrees there on both sides of semesterization, I have no doubt that the new structures do not encourage depth or synthesis as effectively as the old system. It’s still possible, of course, but you have to find a way of doing it for yourself, and the exam system works against it.

  9. Well, I only did level one courses in theology at Glasgow Yooni, but it was something of an eye-opener. Am sure those coming from a conservative background and writing an essay on,e.g., homosexuality will have their beliefs challenged by doing the relevant reading (and the library does have Gagnon et all less evangelicals complain of academia being one-sided liberal etc).

    Is it wrong that your mention of being an office temp made me think of ‘9 to 5’? 😉

  10. Tumble out of bed and stumble to the kitchen
    Pour myself a cup of ambition…

    And so on.

    BTW, theology wasn’t about sexuality back in my day. It was about gender. And I note the appalling gender ratio on the St Mary’s website (17:1, I think) with some sadness.

  11. Sarah says

    The time has passed in a blinking of an eye and yet….
    Special time, special place, special people.

  12. Rosemary Hannah says

    I met one of my best friends there 37 years ago when we were both bejantines. She happens to be spending this week with me. She is a Rev. Dr these days – I never even made it to the coveted blue scarf. Heigh ho.

    Not one female member of staff in my day at all. They used to say ‘how nice to have the ladies with us’ -some of them – while I ground my teeth.

    I think there is more to it that ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ – in that openmindedness is not prescriptive of either. It is the way you think not your conclusions, as a brief study of a certain kind of library shelf will reveal. There, Bauckham is no more welcome than Hampson.

    From my own experiences of students, I would say that (alas) even very conservative Biblical studies still come as an almighty shock to very many.

  13. Steven McQuitty says

    What about the Church of England colleges, like Ripon, Ridley Hall, Westcott etc…?

    Does anyone have any inside knowledge?

    By the way I have jumped ships and become an Anglican Christian as opposed to a Presbyterian Christian…just started attending my local Church of Ireland parish church, which happens to be Bishop David’s last parish!

  14. In England, in order to save money, the dioceses are insisting that ordinands are trained on part-time local courses. This means that they do not have the choice of traditions but have to study under the ethos of the local scheme. Unfortunately, as is the way of things nowadays, these local courses are dominated by Fulcrum type evangelicals.

  15. Oh, don’t get me started on training ordinands.

    I don’t know anything much about the C of E colleges. I was briefly accepted to study at one of them (known as one of the two bishop factories), when the principal of TISEC decided that she didn’t want to teach me. I visited it once and decided that all the students were frightened of the principal there. I wasn’t convinced that traditional seminary based teaching was any better than the pickled seminary that TISEC had become.

    We always trained together in Scotland, Madpriest. The idea of training based on churchpersonship seems rather odd.

  16. fr dougal says

    Well, the old Coates Hall was supposed to be a “non-party” theological college, but a friend of mine came to study there as an evangelical ordinand and pointed out that it actually was distinctly Catholic in ethos. It might be more accurate to say that in Scotland the training reflects the ethos of the Province – which means it is catholic in ecclesial outlook rather than evangelical.

  17. David | Dah•veed says

    I went to graduate seminary in the USA after completing a five year Licenciatura in Human Behavior (psych & soc) in Mexico. The accrediting agency for schools of theology is joint for the US & Canada, so I assume most schools in Canada are very similar to the US.

    I started at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. I finished at Northwest Theological Union, Seattle, WA. I did one summer stint at Vancouver School of Theology, Vancouver, BC, sitting at the feet of the Rt. Revd. John Shelby Spong. (I drank all of my Kool Aid, thank you very much!)

    In the US & Canada it seems that accredited seminaries fall into two basic categories. The first is a “conservative” seminary with a statement of faith set in stone that a student must subscribe to at some point in order to be allowed to continue their education at that institution. The curriculum then consists of spoon feeding that prescribed belief system into the students so that they might spew it back on exams.

    The second is a “liberal seminary” which has no proscribed beliefs per se and has a curriculum which equips the students to do theology, and leaves what they believe to them to work out. The professors will grade you on your proficiency of using theological methodology and may critique you on how you arrived at your stated conclusions.

    The three seminaries with which I was involved were in the second category. I hear Perkins has a few more evangelically minded professors than when I was there. NTU failed as I and my same year classmates completed our courses and finished our exams. My degree was a four year ThM. We never got our degrees, we cannot get transcripts, but they cashed all of our checks!

    Which has something to do with why I am a psychologist and not a priest.

  18. Robin says

    > It was whilst I was there that I joined the Episcopal Church and became an Anglican

    It was excellent that you joined the Episcopal Church, but why on earth did you become an Anglican? I was one for three years, when I lived in Cambridge in the 1970s, but I’m glad to say it did me no permanent damage.

Speak Your Mind