The whole of life can be found within the Chapel's walls,
|Rev Gillean Maclean:
'The Chapel and its worship provides an anchor when all around are in a state of flux'.
t is in the Chapel that the day begins for the chaplains to the University. Each morning during term time a small group of staff and students meet at 8.40am, a candle is lit and a simple cross laid on the floor in their midst. From these few peaceful moments of contemplation, before the bustle of another University day, the whole work of the Chaplain and the Chaplaincy flows.
Our University had a Christian birth and still today, at the centre of what is now a very modern and busy campus, lies a Chapel that has seen many generations of students and staff at prayer. Although our students and staff in this 21st century now come from all over the world, from many faiths and none, the Chapel witnesses on a daily basis to our founder, a Roman Catholic Bishop.
We have indeed moved on, however, from those days in the sixteenth century when our (all male) students numbering less than 50, would have been expected to turn out for prayer many times a day! The Chapel is ecumenical (not in the custody of any one denomination for the Christian Church) and is used each day for services of worship.
Sometimes these will be led by a member of the Chaplaincy team, from any one of a number of denominations, or even by a group of students. When students are involved, of course, little of what happens would be approved of by Bishop Elphinstone were he to visit us today. And the very presence of a woman presiding over weekly Sunday services of preaching and communion would have him scurrying to Rome for assistance or perhaps an army!
The role of the Chaplain, like everything else in today's world, is constantly changing and while a great deal of my own time is spent listening to staff and students when a crisis is looming or when they are going through a difficult time, the Chapel and its worship provides an anchor when all around is in a state of flux.
There are funerals, baptisms, weddings and thanksgivings, graduations and Remembrance Day services, prayers, ancient and modern. The whole of life is represented within its walls.
It represents too, in its willingness to be a part of the local community, the many links that the University has with its parent, the City of Aberdeen. Whether it is providing a venue and a focal point for the grief of a community in the event of a tragic murder of a young local boy or hosting a service to thank the members of the Seven Incorporated Trades of Aberdeen for their continuing support, it is very much a part of the spiritual landscape of the City of Aberdeen.
Just as the Chapel is at the heart of the University community, the Chaplain, indeed the Chaplain's family, are very much part of that community. In my case my husband and daughters enjoy being involved in the daily life of the University and if someone calls at the Manse in tears and I'm not there, I may come home to find my daughter has made a new friend!
Of course, there is a spiritual dimension to all of this and sometimes folks do come to see me to spend an interesting hour or two discussing the meaning of life and death, the universe, and all that.
We try to set up groups to air some of the current ethical dilemmas and to discuss matters of faith in an open and constructive way. Although most of these meetings take place in the Chaplaincy Centre, a stone's throw from the Chapel itself, it is the Chapel nearby that provides us with that sense of belonging to something far bigger and far more significant than ourselves. That can be a humbling, stimulating and exciting experience for me, the other ministers, our priests of all denominations, our helpers and volunteers and, of course, our wonderful Chaplaincy Centre secretary Irene.
For me at the end of five years here as Assistant Chaplain and then as Chaplain, I can say it has been a happy time. It has not always been easy, indeed there have been times of tragedy and deep sadness. It has never been boring and I will always be grateful for the support and kindness I have had from other members of staff ranging from porters and administrators to the Regent, the Principal and the Chancellor. Whatever else the Chaplain's job is it is certainly a very privileged one!
I have always loved the Chapel. When I was a student it was a place of refuge before exams and I never dreamt that I would find myself presiding over services one day. But it is the little plaque hung on the Rood Screen bearing these words from Pilgrim's Progress that I will take with me, and that epitomises the relationship that still exists between the Chapel and all those who use it. "Here one may/without much molestation/be thinking/what he is/whence he came/what he has done/and to what/the King has called him."
Rev Gillean Maclean was Chaplain to the University of Aberdeen. She left the University in April 2000 to take up a post in the team ministry of Livingston Ecumenical Parish.