Kirk women’s rights pioneer honoured

Rev Dr Margaret Rae McDonald Forrester
Rev Dr Margaret Rae McDonald Forrester
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A heroic pioneer for women’s rights within the Kirk has been honoured by the University of Edinburgh for helping pave the way to the ordination of female ministers.

Rev Dr Margaret Rae McDonald 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 Levison, then an assistant chaplain at Edinburgh University, asked the General Assembly to ordain the position but was ignored.

Dr Forrester, 76, said: “This is really an honour for everyone who was involved in that struggle.

“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.”

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.

“For me, it has always been a question of education,” said the retired minister.

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

The first female Moderator of the General Assembly Dr Alison Elliot, who took up the role in 2004, said: “Margaret is a woman of great stature within the Church of Scotland.

“Her courageous leadership, pastoral sensitivity and manifest integrity have made her a popular role model throughout the Kirk. Warm congratulations to her and the University of Edinburgh for recognising her distinction with this degree.”

Dr Forrester’s ministry took her first to India. With her husband Duncan, who died last year. She worked at Madras Christian College. Their children, Donald and Catriona, were born there.

Having been ordained in the United Reformed Church in England, Dr Forrester was inducted by the Church of Scotland in 1980 to St Michael’s Church in west Edinburgh and was the first female parish minister in Edinburgh Presbytery.

After retiring from ministry she became a published children’s fiction author, writing three volumes of books about her cat Mac.

The Church of Scotland was one of the first national churches to accept the ordination of women.