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Women’s ministry campaigner receives honorary doctorate

Thomas Baldwin reports on an honour for one of the pioneers of women’s ministry in the Church of Scotland.

A PIONEER for women’s rights within the Church of Scotland has been honoured by the University of Edinburgh for helping pave the way to the ordination of female ministers.

The Rev Dr Margaret Forrester has been awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity for being part of a group of women who, in 1967, petitioned the General Assembly to allow women to be ministers of Word and Sacrament.

The move led to the landmark ruling by the Assembly in favour of the proposal the following year. It was the culmination of an issue which arose in 1963 when Mary Lusk (later Levison), then an assistant chaplain at the University of Edinburgh, asked the General Assembly to ordain the position but was met with deaf ears.

“This is really an honour for everyone who was involved in that struggle and I accept it on their behalf too,” Dr Forrester said. “I worked with five other great women to ensure the proposal was debated in the Assembly because, remember, at that time, women couldn’t even debate in the hall. My thanks also go to the great men who supported our cause and debated so well that day.

“For me, it has always been a question of education,” she added. “The words ‘struggle’ or ‘fight’ don’t come easily for me. Education was key in understanding the Bible. I still have a sense of wonder and awe that I was caught up in God’s plan for reform of the Church.

“There were great women and great men involved in this reform. Ultimately it was men who voted for this.”

Dr Forrester told of how a clerk at the General Assembly refused to allow a letter her group produced to be put in commissioners’ pigeon holes urging them to debate the issue.

Instead, a national press conference was held in Edinburgh which led to front page headlines across the UK, putting pressure on Kirk leaders to allow the debate.

Speaking to Life and Work in 2008, marking the 40th anniversary of the vote, she said: “To our amazement, the entire press seemed to abandon the General Assembly and come to our press conference, and we got full page coverage in almost every paper, front page on some of them.

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About Life and Work

In this month's issue: COMMUNION AND THE CHURCH - The place of sacrament ‘I SLEEP VERY WELL THESE NIGHTS’ - The high flying banker who became a minister WILL THE FUTURE HAVE A CHURCH - From death spiral to phoenix?