Alumni Services

Margaret Forrester

After retiring from the church, the pioneering Bachelor of Divinity graduate Reverend Professor Margaret Forrester began a new career as a children’s author.


Margaret Forrester

Degree Course

Bachelor of Divinity

Year of Graduation


Margaret Forrester

Your time at the University

I didn’t choose Edinburgh; Edinburgh chose me!  And how glad I am.

In the 50s there were few residences for women – Muir for medics and Masson in George Square for the others.  As I lived in Edinburgh I lived at home.  Later I graduated to a sepulchral north facing room in 'digs' in Warrender.

I was fortunate to be in Professor John Macmurray's Moral Philosophy first year class – his last year.  These huge first year lectures were a bit intimidating but they were exciting.  It was the same in Literature and Mathematics.  The lectures were from people who were world class scholars and we left classes feeling ignorant, challenged and walking on air.

Walking on air often took me to the huge Common Room in the Old College – it was en route to the Reading Room! – where we continued the class more informally over coffee.  George Mackay Brown could be seen with his coterie, filling in time before the pub opened.  Another poet, Tom Scott, shared a tutorial with me and about twenty others.  Great days!

Very soon I realised that my calling was for a profession not yet open to women – oh those glass ceilings.  Entrance to the Faculty of Divinity was easy – I had an MA.  Persuading the Church of Scotland that I was called to be a minister was harder.

From 1961 – 1964 I was a student at New College.  Suddenly I was in my metier.  Theology was my subject; ministry was my vocation.  In my last year I became President of the University Theological Society.   Those were heady days because the fight for ordination was on.  Shades of Sophia Jex Blake were around; a lot of my time was spent in fighting for equality.

I didn’t choose Edinburgh; Edinburgh chose me!  And how glad I am.

Margaret Forrester

Tell us about your Experiences since leaving the University

I used to tell my husband and children that I got married because there was nothing else to do.  Not quite true.   But I was fully qualified with nowhere to go!

Seizing the opportunity, Duncan flew home from his work in India and persuaded me that if the Church of Scotland didn’t want me the Church of South India did! After an engagement of two and a half weeks (during which I sat my finals and arranged the wedding), we were married in St George's West and he departed for the start of the Indian academic year.  After graduation I joined him in Madras Christian College.  There, as promised, there was plenty of work to do and I enjoyed taking classes for a diploma in Christian Theology and teaching New Testament Greek to any students who were planning to go on to theological College.  Amongst my former students I can count three bishops and two professors!  The Church of South India did not ordain women either, but I soon became pastoral assistant at the local congregation and took English language services most Sundays.

In 1970 we headed back to the UK with our 2 children.  Duncan was working in the University of Sussex and I was was ordained in the fairly new United Reformed Church to the pastorate of Telscombe Cliffs.

In 1978, we returned to Edinburgh where Duncan was appointed to be Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at New College.  Only 10 years after the passing of the Act allowing women to be ordained it was still hard for a woman to be in a city charge.  So I was delighted when I was called to the parish of St Michael's in Edinburgh, the first woman to be called to a parish in Edinburgh.  And I was minister there for over 22 extraordinarily  happy years.  During that time I was also the first woman to be convener of the Board of World Mission and Unity – demanding but fascinating.  In due course I became Moderator of Edinburgh presbytery, the second woman to have done so.

I now enjoy retirement – gardening, listening to music, playing bridge, and writing. I started to write when the first of our 6 grandchildren arrived but one thing led to another and there are now 3 books out about our cat, Mac, who sold us our house.

Sadly my husband is now in a Nursing Home with Parkinson's and dementia and I visit him most days. 'Write what you know about' is good advice.  Recently I have written on the theology of care. A piece called Relative Care will be published in the The Expository Times shortly.

Alumni wisdom

Enjoy your time at University.  It is a very special period!

New College Summer Party

Join fellow New College alumni for the 2016 Alumni Reunion to share food, entertainment and good memories at the New College Summer Party on 4th June 2016.

For more information see the event page here.