Meet Anne Mulligan DCS Chaplain to the Moderator

When Rt Rev Dr Derek Browning asked Anne Mulligan DCS to be one of his chaplains during his year as Moderator, she couldn’t have been more surprised. Now, six weeks into the role, she says she is having a ball and looking forward to the rest of her year. We caught up with Ms Mulligan during the Moderator’s holiday break to find out how she came to be a hospital chaplain and what future she sees for the Diaconate.

Anne Mulligan DCS with the Moderator and Rev John McMahon

Anne Mulligan DCS with the Moderator and Rev John McMahon at the Heart & Soul Festival

Did you grow up in the church?

Yes. I grew up in Townhead, Glasgow. My father was Catholic, but my mother was a member of the Church of Scotland and I went to church with her. As a teenager I went to a Baptist Youth Fellowship, but I decided the Church of Scotland was the place for me. It was a parish church and so I knewit was there for everyone. Even at a young age that was vitally important to me.

How did you go about training to be a deaconess?

I was 15 when I first wrote to the Church of Scotland and asked to be a deaconess. I didn’t get a reply, but I persevered and eventually I got information and met a lady from what was then the Home Board who told me I had to be 21 to enter training.

What did you do when you left school?

I applied to the civil service board and got a job at the Labour Exchange after I left school at 18. It was great experience in working with people because I was very green. Then I found out that the church had changed its rules and you could train for the Diaconate at 20. So at 20 I went to study at St Colm’s in Edinburgh and after that went to New College for pastoral studies.

Moderator being installed
Rt Rev Dr Derek Browning was installed as Moderator at the start of the 2017 General Assembly with his chaplains in attendance

How did you start work as a deacon?

In 1973 I started my work as a parish deaconess at St Mungo’s in Cumbernauld. I loved being part of the new town, which had a great mix of young families and elderly relatives. It was a place to try out new things and the Church was very much at the centre of the community. I stayed there until 1980 and then went to Abronhill church as a deaconess. I was involved in pastoral work, school chaplaincy and setting up House groups, which was a way of building community and helping people find their gifts and strengths.

You found your vocation in hospital chaplaincy?

When I was at New College I had a placement at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh which introduced me to chaplaincy so in 1986 I accepted a chaplain’s job at the Infirmary. I loved it and stayed there for 27 years. It was just a great privilege to be there for people in their times of need and when they were at their most vulnerable.

Being a chaplain to the hospital staff was part of the job, but it was very much a two-way street. I got lots of support from the other staff. Most of the patients I worked with had no live church connection and it always amazed me that they were so ready to accept a chaplain and share with me.Families too accepted you into their intimate circle and you had the opportunity to be with them through some very hard times, but also fortunately at times of great joy.

Is life quieter now you are retired?

I retired three years ago, but I still see quite a few staff socially and I am happy to be a lady who lunches with nurses. I'm still involved in the Transplant Unit as an Independent Assessor for the Human Tissue Authority, checking that everything is in order for live donor transplants.

Work/life balance has always been important to me and I’ve tried to have a balance between my work and my family life. My family is very close and loving and I have been fortunate to have their support. I have been a besotted aunt, and now I am a besotted great aunt.

Retirement has also allowed me to get more involved in my own congregation at Mayfield Salisbury, and a friend and I started a small dementia support group there. I’ve been on the executive of the Diaconate and now of course as chaplain to Moderator I’m being kept quite busy.

What would surprise people about the role of chaplain to the Moderator?

So far it has been really exciting. It’s been an eye-opener to see behind the scenes at the General Assembly. I had no idea what a well-oiled machine it is and how much work goes into that. Everything is there for you before you ask. The day after the Manchester attack I was there well before 8am and already the flag had been lowered and plans rearranged.

I’ve always been proud of the Church of Scotland but during the Assembly I was very proud. I saw how much work is going on across the Church and how committed people are to meeting the needs of the people of Scotland as well as in the wider world. The Church is outward looking and I’m proud of that.

You also got an opportunity to meet HRH The Princess Royal

It was great to meet Her Grace and to experience the hospitality at Holyrood. I was very impressed with her warmth and her ability to discuss everything from the importance of spiritual and pastoral care to the role of churches in communities. It wasn’t just polite chat. She knows the issues.

Are you looking forward to accompanying Rt Rev Dr Derek Browning on visits this year?

Yes. So far we have already attended the Presbyterian Church of Ireland’s Assembly andcelebrated the 750th anniversary of St Michael’s in Linlithgow. We’ve been to North Berwick to visit Rev Neil Dougall and his congregation and to the Royal Highland show. Then last week we also went to Her Majesty the Queen’s garden party in Holyrood and to Edinburgh Castle for a reception and the Ceremony of Beating Retreat. So I can tell you, I was quite glad to get back into my oldjeans and t-shirt on Friday.

Some of the highlights I am looking forward to are the Presbytery visit to Glasgow which is my hometown. And I’m accompanying the Moderator to Rome in October, so I’m excited about that.

Why did you choose to be a deacon and not a parish minister?

The ministry of Word and Sacrament was never my calling. It was always the ministry of service that appealed to me. Deacons have always been involved in chaplaincy, especially in hospitals, prisons and the armed forces.

I hope that this year the Diaconate will gain a higher profile and that the training will be more settled. Deacons are a bridge between the Church and the wider community, so I’d also like to see the Church use deacons more imaginatively.