A Chaplain’s Early Christmas

By Revd Dr Donald MacEwan, University Chaplain


Christmas comes early in St Andrews. It always had to happen before the students left for home. But this year with a new academic calendar it had to happen before the exams began on Monday 10 December. So the St Salvator’s Chapel Choir were rehearsing music in English, Latin, German and Church Slavonic from mid-autumn; readers were finding the story of shepherds and angels pinging into their inbox in mid-November; and Estates were sourcing holly with berries before St Andrew’s Day was done. Usually ministers complain about shops pushing Christmas too early – this year I beat them to it!

But what a lovely, if early, Christmas we’ve had. St Salvator’s Chapel was just big enough for the Alumni st-salvators-chapelCarol Service, but far too small for the student version which filled Holy Trinity Church’s beautiful spaces last Friday. The service doesn’t take too many risks with the familiar: we began with a soprano singing the opening verse of Once in Royal David’s City, and ended with Adeste Fideles ringing round the church. But did the congregation really hear me singing a few lines, unaccompanied, from A Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl? And did I really begin the sermon by declaring my unrequited love for Lucy Mangan, the brilliant Guardian columnist? But one thing was clear – it was certainly an occasion when in singing the glorious songs of old, we heard the deep music of our souls.

One final memory of this year’s Christmas as the Chaplain: at one student dinner, I took part in Secret Santa. His gift – a small box containing a game called Nun Bowling. The tagline – It’s Sinfully Fun! I don’t remember a class in theology college on that.

Let me wish you a merry Christmas – whenever you celebrate it – and a wonderful new year.


To carry out its work, the Chaplaincy has expressed a need for 300 new Bibles, replacing copies that have become worn or damaged.  To date, nearly £900 has been secured for this purpose.  To support this effort, please visit our website (to make a gift, simply include “replacement Bibles” in the designation field of the form).  If you would like to purchase a copy of the Chapel Choir’s newest CD, click here.


The Wee Beastie

Katie Pearson 3Thirteen years after you’ve graduated from St Andrews, you find yourself in the heart of war in Bosnia. What originally started off as a job making a documentary about the Red Cross for the BBC has turned into heavy negotiations for you and your crew’s lives in exchange for the body bags of your captor’s dead from the UN authorities.

Or perhaps you would prefer something more glamorous? You’ve been given the task to bring the reclusive Harrison Ford back from Hollywood to appear on a London Weekend Television chat show. Only charm, humour, and a promise of fresh bagels delivered to his hotel every day while he is in London will win him over.

Katie Pearson 1

Or maybe, after a bout with a life-threatening illness, you’ve received a wake-up call to follow your passion to write. After the publishing company Hodder and Stoughton has read the opening three chapters of your first novel, you’ve been offered an astounding two-book deal.

Each one of these concepts could have come straight from a blurb at the back of a fictional book, and yet, all of these events actually did happen to one of our very own graduates who recently passed away. Katie Pearson, a graduate of the School of English department in 1982, experienced all of these adventures and more as a producer and director, an author, and a mother.

Katie’s breast cancer returned several times after her first encounter with it, but she managed to show strength and stay in good humour through her column in The Times called ‘The Wee Beastie,’ writing accounts of coping with both chemotherapy and her family’s rambunctious labradoodle puppy.

To honour Katie’s love of St Andrews and to encourage students with Katie’s same passion for creative writing, her husband, Marcus, and Katie Pearson 2daughters Maddie and Bella wish to establish a scholarship in honour of her. The Katie Pearson Scholarship will be open to all undergraduate students, no matter what discipline, demonstrating financial need who also have a spark for creative writing. If you have any interest in supporting Katie’s family in their goal of raising £65,000 for the scholarship, please click here.

While the University of St Andrews is world-renowned for the high quality of our staff, we, like Katie Pearson, strive to inspire and encourage passions beyond the academic pursuits.