This year sees the Chaplaincy and St Andrews community welcome Rev. Dr Donald MacEwan to its staff. The Saint’s Simeon Burke was able to speak with Rev MacEwan about his life and work before St Andrews and his purpose and passion for working as Chaplain of the University for us.
SB: For students unaware of the nature and purpose of the Chaplaincy service, could you briefly describe the aim of the Chaplaincy and the activities it puts on?
DM: The Chaplaincy exists to provide spiritual care and a confidential, listening ear to any member of the university regardless of religious faith or whether the individual expresses no faith.
The Chaplaincy building on St Mary’s Place is a space for students to conduct a variety of activities in exploring and deepening their faith. As Chaplain, I promote worship at the two historic, beautiful chapels, St Leonard’s and St Salvator’s, which are accompanied with beautiful music.
There are a host of other activities and services the Chaplaincy conducts to serve students. These include visiting students in hospital, a befriending scheme wherein students for whom English is not their first language are linked with local families in St Andrews and a Thursday evening discussion group centring on questions of faith.
SB: As new chaplain of the University, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your interests?
DM: I am 41 and was raised in Glasgow before studying English and Philosophy at Aberdeen. I lived in Japan for two years and then made the decision to study for the ministry. I spent the last ten years before coming to St Andrews as parish minister at two small villages close by. In my spare time I play tennis and golf and enjoy listening to music, my favourite bands being King Creosote and other members of the Fence Collective.
SB: What do you hope to achieve for and with the St Andrews student community in your four years here?
DM: I hope to continue to foster cultural, particularly religious, appreciation and expression among the student body. Coming to university exposes students to so many new things and greatly broadens their horizons. This is no less
SB: What do you see as the challenges and rewards of working with students of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds?
DM: The Chaplaincy is a diverse meeting place, and out of that often comes rich community and friendship. Personally, it is humbling to see young students explore and come to express their faith. The greatest challenges occur when political commitments are brought into religious faith, resulting in great misunderstanding as people distort their view of one another. Both the rewards and challenges are the product of being in such a multi-ethnic environment and press home the importance of respect in interfaith dialogue. Like many if not all rewarding things, respect takes work.
SB: In today’s individualised and technologised society, does your job of listening to students take on new significance?
DM: Yes, because human nature does not change as fast as technology does. To be sure, we see the proliferation of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, and yet, as humans, we still crave company. We live in a world in which loneliness is an increasing problem and genuine friendship can be rare. In this context, face to face contact is more valuable than ever. Alongside the other many student services, we at the Chaplaincy strive to provide this kind of confidential contact to the students of St Andrews.