Landmark year for New College
As New College celebrates 175 years of teaching, its Principal - Professor Susan Hardman Moore - discusses her vision for the College and her call to serve the Church.
Although the Free Church's 'New College' opened for classes in the New Town, 1 November 1843, the College has always celebrated a later anniversary.
Professor Hardman Moore explains:
“We recognise that the Free Church's 'New College' opened for classes this month in 1843, and we celebrate that but we have always focussed on the anniversary of laying the foundation stone of New College on the Mound. This was done by Rev Dr Thomas Chalmers on 3 June 1846, and is commemorated by the stone over the archway at the entrance.
“One hundred years later, in 1946, a book was published: ‘New College Edinburgh, A Centenary History’ by Rev. Professor Hugh Watt. Fifty years later, in 1996, it was followed by a pamphlet, 'The Spirit of New College' by Rev. Professor Alec Cheyne, marking the 150th anniversary. We will follow that tradition. We are looking forward to (and planning for) 2021, when we will celebrate the 175th anniversary of the laying the foundation stone.”
Nevertheless, 2018 is a landmark year in many ways.
What attracted Professor Hardman Moore, Professor of Early Modern Religion in the School of Divinity, to the role of Principal of New College – and how significant is her appointment in what has been an important year for women in both the School and in the Church?
On being Principal of New College
“Being Principal is an opportunity to serve New College, the School of Divinity and the Church,” says Professor Hardman Moore. “There are three aspects to the role.
“As Principal, I have oversight of ministry candidates placed at New College by the Church of Scotland Ministries Council. The candidates come to New College for theological training in a critical academic context, but they’re also part of a community that meets week by week for worship and provides mutual encouragement and support. On this front, I work in partnership with my colleague Rev Dr Alison Jack (Assistant Principal).
“Another part of my role is to look after the historic endowments of New College, which are to be used for the education and support of ministers-in-training. These funds can be used for a variety of purposes: bursaries for candidates while they are students; grants to support New College Library; specialist speech training and preaching workshops; special projects to develop work in areas of interest to the Church, such as mission studies.
“Also, the Principal acts as a bridge between the School of Divinity (and wider University) and the Church of Scotland, on matters such as the design and delivery of ministerial training, and care of the historic books and manuscripts of the Church housed in the New College Library.”
Vision for New College
Professor Hardman Moore continues:
“The Principal is appointed by the General Assembly, and I would like to build up the productive relationship between the School of Divinity and the Church. ‘Knowledge exchange’ is crucial to modern university life: we’re encouraged to make our teaching and research accessible to the public. New College already provides some CPD (Continuing Professional Development) for ministers, but I hope we can develop our outreach with events to interest a wide range of people in churches and the community.
“We’re at a critical point in terms of shaping the ministry of the future. A lot of thought needs to go into how best to equip the people of God – lay people as well as ministers – to engage with today’s society and to live out their lives as disciples. I’d like to see New College develop its collaboration with the Church for training and supporting people in ministry.”
Role of women
“It’s more than 20 years since Rev Dr Ruth Page became the first female Principal of New College (1996-99), though Alison Jack has been Assistant Principal for some time now. This year it’s the 50th anniversary of the Church of Scotland’s decision that women could be called to ministry on the same terms as men, and it’s lovely that, right now, the School of Divinity has its first female Head of School – Professor Helen Bond – and that the Principal and Assistant Principal of New College are also women. What’s more, Rev Susan Brown, a New College graduate, is the Moderator of the Church of Scotland.
“There are far more women in academic life, and in the Church, than there were when I started out. Early in my career, at Durham University in 1981, then at New College in 1987, I managed to double the number of women on the academic staff: from one to two! Although I studied theology straight from school, and started training as a Methodist lay preacher in my teens, I didn’t meet any women ministers until I went to America as a graduate student in my 20s. It’s excellent that today women have so many more role models in academia and the Church, but the ‘glass ceiling’ is still exists - women coming up through the system need encouragement and support.”
Pioneering Athena SWAN Awards
“We were pioneering, the first department of Theology and Religious Studies in the UK to gain an Athena SWAN Bronze award and now, in 2018, a Silver.
“In 2014, when we won the first award, we needed to focus on gender equality in our postgraduate community. The shift had already happened at undergraduate level, and among academic staff. Now there are more and more women coming through.
“The ministry presents different challenges from academic life, for women and for men. As an academic I’m not promoting a particular faith perspective: I teach students to think critically about faith, I don’t educate them into faith. Today there are about 200 women ministers in the Church of Scotland. Yes, there are still isolated pockets where women’s ministry is resisted but we’ve seen massive change over the past 50 years. Change always takes time to percolate through. As more women become ministers, they enrich and develop what the Church can offer.”
Called to the Ministry
“I started to train as a Methodist lay preacher when I was at school, when I was about 17. So I felt a call to preach at an early age, but even though women could be ordained in the Methodist Church back then, it was so rare I didn’t even consider it. I went to university to study theology and planned to be a schoolteacher like my parents and grandparents. Then I was fortunate to receive scholarship to study for a PhD, and that led me into Higher Education.
“I continued as a Methodist lay preacher until my family moved to an area without a Methodist Church. We joined a Church of Scotland parish, and I requested a transfer to be a Reader. As time went on, I found it didn’t make sense to me to separate the ministry of Word and Sacrament - the same gospel is offered in both. This came out of experience with my son, who is on the autistic spectrum. He had enormous difficulty with words when he was young: he’d hide under the pew in church because there were just too many words. This made the sacraments more important to me. So eventually I went through the selection process and training, and entered Ordained Local Ministry.
“A trainee minister needs an incredible amount of dedication to balance academic training, practical placements and (very often) family commitments. Trainees are usually mature students coming back to study after some time, often from a very different career, to look into theology for the first time.
“As well as dedication they need flexibility to roll with the punches and meet the challenges that will face them in a parish and other contexts of ministry.
“The qualities people need are assessed during the Church of Scotland discernment process that candidates undergo before they come to New College to study.”
Research in Early Modern Religion
Professor Hardman Moore is intrigued by how people in previous times have lived out their religious convictions.
“I’ve always been interested in trying to retrieve the stories of people who’d otherwise be lost in the mists of history,” she explains. “In my book, Pilgrims: New World Settlers and the Call of Home, the opening chapter was about an obscure character called Susanna Bell. On her deathbed she told her life-story, shaped (as she saw it) by the providence of God. She was one of thousands who made the hazardous journey to New England and back in the 17th century, but to me she became an emblem of them all.
“I’m also intrigued by Luther: if you visit my office you’ll see my postcards of Luther and his wife Katharina von Bora, collected during the 500th anniversary year of Luther’s 95 Theses in 2017.”
When she is not working at New College or in ministry, Professor Hardman Moore likes to head 60 miles north or 60 miles south, to the mountains of Perthshire or the coast of Northumberland, to spend time with her husband, son and daughter.
New students may be surprised to learn that in May 2014, she abseiled off the Forth Rail Bridge, raising over £500 for PASDA, an Edinburgh charity that supports families of adults on the autistic spectrum.
“I’ve also abseiled off the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse,” adds the professor. “I did this in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support, in the company of my sister, who at that time had terminal cancer. I’m waiting for someone to sponsor me to abseil down the front of New College!”
In other adventures, she once drove 110 miles on an ice road, off the north coast of Canada, to see a former student who was working in Tuktoyaktuk.