Pagan Appointed as First LGBTQ+ Chaplain

By Steffy VonScott, Jan 20 2020

Pagans today still continue to make history and push boundaries. This year we had a Scottish Pagan, our National Interfaith Officer Linda Haggerstone, become the first LGBTQ+ University Chaplain for the University of Glasgow. She is the first person to hold such a post in a Scottish university, and the first in the UK.

Over the past decade Linda has been instrumental in securing rights and recognition for the Pagan Communities here in Scotland within her work as an Interfaith Officer, and she continues to be a leading light and inspiration to all. Never one to sit on the side-lines, while many other organisations among the Interfaith communities in Scotland have tended to ignore the issue of LGBTQIA+ people of faith among their flock, Linda has always lead by example.

In 2017 she successfully organised, led and ran the very first Scottish LGBTQIA+ Interfaith Conference, focused on Exploring spirituality, sexuality and gender. The event itself was drawn together through Linda's many LGBTQIA+ contacts and connections across the Interfaith spectrum here in Scotland, and was collaboratively funded and hosted by Scottish Pagan Federation, the Metropolitan Community Church, the Quakers, Quest: The LGBTQ+ arm of the Catholic Church. The event was advertised off the back of the Pride marches that year, and there were community tables at the main Pride event to advertise that the Conference was happening, aiming to help bridge better connections between the faith communities and the LGBTQIA+ people of faith.

This Conference was so successful it led to Linda co-organising and creating of the Creativity with the Spirit LGBTQIA+ Interfaith event as part of Scottish Interfaith Week in 2017. A few years on from those events, and today we have new organisations like Glasgow LGBT+ Interfaith Network which is now very active in the community, an Organisation which Linda helped lay the foundations of, and is very much part of. This appointment is reflective of that hard work…

Her appointment to the role was instigated by Glasgow University Chaplain, the Reverend Stuart MacQuarrie, and a letter of support was sent by our Presiding Officer, Steffy VonScott. The proposal was discussed and approved by senior management through its Equality and Diversity Committee.

Reverend Stuart MacQuarrie, stated that This was the result of working with the LGBTQ+ Students’ Society and individual students who identified as LGBTQ+ to me in pastoral situations. There was a recognition that some LGBTQ+ people may have themselves experienced difficulties or known people who had done so in relation to their identity and faith or belief.

The Presiding Officer, Steffy, was quoted as saying The Scottish Pagan Federation, as a faith representative Organisation, is currently heading towards its 30th anniversary, and Linda has been an instrumental part in that journey for us in terms of community engagement and our own interfaith ambitions. Given all Linda has done to ensure rights, respect and understanding for not only Paganism, but LGBTQIA+ people of faith here in Scotland, I honestly cannot think of anyone better suited for the role. I am quite sure she will continue to shine and inspire within the University of Glasgow for the foreseeable future.

Linda has been at the forefront of Interfaith engagement here in Scotland representing both the Scottish PF and the LGBTQ+ community. She has been heavily involved in Glasgow Interfaith's Weekend Club for over half a decade now, a multifaith group of volunteers working together to set up and organise monthly events especially designed to assist asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants engage in socialising and integration into Scottish life. In her role as an Interfaith Officer she had attended multifaith Scriptural Reasoning events, taken part in Resilience Workshops, participated in Islamophobia Conferences, Interfaith Anti-Racism rallies, Women's day events as part of Refugee week. She has spoken at the Annual Peace Garden event in Renfrewshire on behalf of Paganism in Scotland, co-led an Interfaith Service at St. Mark’s Unitarian Church in Edinburgh, and so much more, not to forget her stellar work each year at Glasgow Interfaith's annual Family Fun Day.

Linda is also no stranger to Glasgow University, having worked as an administrative professional in both the College of Medicine, Veterinary and Life Sciences and the College of Science and Engineering. She has also studied at Glasgow University, setting out on the Interfaith Studies Programme where she was tutored by Dr Rose Drew and Sister Isobel Smyth, gaining a Postgraduate Diploma in Interfaith Studies. It was through Dr. Drew she became involved in Interfaith Glasgow, a Scottish charity specialising in promoting and facilitating engagement between different faith and belief communities in Glasgow.

Linda’s message to the LGBTQ+ community at the University is simple:

I want LGBTQ+ students and staff to know there is someone there to listen, whether they are coming out or experiencing difficulty at work, with their studies, relationships or finding social activities. I want them to know that someone cares about them and will point them in the right direction. I am connected with a lot of different communities so we will find ways to help. I’d like to offer them hope that they will find a little more joy in their lives at least. Because I identify with the community and am not an outsider, I believe I understand the issues.

Linda’s appointment comes at the same time as the Scottish Pagan Federation also had a Pagan Chaplain appointed in St. Andrews University. Following on the back of this, we have had an unprecedented amount of enquiries for Pagan Chaplaincy across the Country, so much so we had to appoint two Chaplaincy Coordinators, Kitty MacIntyre and Jean Fowler, to help grow our services in this area.