Spirituality in Scotland’s Future

Lauren Sykes
Monday 11 September 2023

University Chaplain, the Revd Dr Donald MacEwan, talks about the Chaplaincy Prize and how his team were able to offer three prizes for creative ways of exploring Scotland’s future in faith thanks to Scotland’s Future Series funding.

Spirituality in Scotland’s Future Series – the Chaplaincy Prize

By University Chaplain Revd Dr Donald MacEwan

My name is Donald MacEwan and I’ve been the Chaplain to the University for 12 years, alongside travelling from Uist to Uzbekistan, looking after multiple cats and hens, and very occasionally making my own sushi.

In between all that, I look after a team which leads beautiful worship, cares for students and staff, and fosters interfaith engagement.   

As Chaplain I go to every graduation ceremony. They’re all great fun, but occasionally I have time to scan the printed programmes and notice the number of prizes awarded across the University. And so, when a generous donor gave some money to the Chaplaincy for any purpose we wanted, it crossed my mind that it would be intriguing to offer a Chaplaincy Prize: not for academic achievement, not even for being the most pious student in the town, but for being creative around a different theme each year, with reference to faith or spirituality. 

With the donation invested we could afford a first prize of £250 each year.

The climate crisis inspired our first theme in 2021 – the environment. Covid-19 provided our second in 2022 – friendship. We had wonderful entries in a range of media – essays, poems, photographic portfolios, videos, stories – but what could be our theme in 2023? Along came the offer of extra funding from the Scotland’s Future Series project – and both subject and opportunity came together. We applied for funding for two further prizes and a public event featuring prize winners, and we had our theme – Scotland’s Future.

Following the deadline in January, the judging panel, made up of two honorary chaplains and me, assessed the anonymised entries. It was not easy to make our decision but, in time, we reached a consensus on third, second and first.

Pictured at the prize winners reception are (from let to right) Noah Getz Brzezinski, Assistant Chaplain Bill Shackman, Chaplain Donald MacEwan, Poppy Kershaw, and Benjamin Ong

The winner was Benjamin Ong, a PhD student in Sustainable Development from Malaysia, who wrote a beautiful poem called Faith will be shared around tables. This explored Scotland’s future by imagining St Salvator’s Quad as a woodland in the distant past, as a way of thinking about a future of healing, of a community of many cultures and languages eating together.

Second was Poppy Kershaw, a PhD student in history, with an essay on Scotland’s future which also focussed on the people of the future and wondered what the future people of Scotland would pray for. Poppy was highly commended the previous year for her essay on friendship, so she has a strong record now.

Third prize went to Noah Getz Brzezinski, an undergraduate student, who submitted a report on the interfaith football league that he organised, which brought together students, staff and others from different faiths and church communities in St Andrews, finding in sport a model for a future of understanding and healing.

At the prize-giving event, the winners’ friends and others came to hear their entries and congratulate them on their success. After refreshments, the three prize winners took part in a panel discussion with Bill Shackman, the Assistant Chaplain for interfaith engagement, which I chaired. 

The audience asked some excellent and searching questions about faith and the future of Scotland, eliciting further creative responses from the panel.

Next year, we return to a single Chaplaincy Prize, and a new subject – Crossing cultures. All St Andrews students are welcome to take part: the deadline is Wednesday 31 January 2024. Further details can be found on the Chaplaincy website.

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