‘In all honesty, I thought residential training institutions were dinosaurs. Why prepare people for a community-based ministry by taking them out of their community? Now I’ve found just as much truth in the converse: we can prepare people for a community-based ministry by putting them in community.’
Towards the end of our first term at Trinity, in an unsurprisingly contemplative moment, someone asked me what aspect of college had the most impact on me. Sat around the dinner table after another high-quality offering from the fabulous Christine, who runs our kitchens, I had to say lunch. The food is excellent, and it’s largely been a huge blessing to have a tasty hot meal every day (although I may have fallen victim to the notorious Trinity Stone), but even more than the food, the chance to eat in such excellent company has been the biggest gift. The talk is so enriching and enlivening, be it the banter with like-minded souls, the support and encouragement offered to each other on similar journeys, or the chance to thrash out the questions prompted by our reading and lectures.
I’m an external processor; I tend not to know what I think until I’ve said it. My previous theological study on a distance learning programme was bit of a battle, I’m just not cut out for all that time on my own with books and questions, I need to interact to process my thoughts, so I knew what I was looking for from my training, and I felt at home at Trinity even when I came for interview.
Not so many years ago, when I was beginning to think through the reality of my calling to ordination, I was sure that if ever I went to theological college, it would be contextual training. In all honesty, I thought residential training institutions were dinosaurs. Why prepare people for a community-based ministry by taking them out of their community? Now I’ve found just as much truth in the converse: we can prepare people for a community-based ministry by putting them in community. I feel especially well-prepared down here at Trinity, where they’ve been so deliberate about placing us in other communities; on Sundays I am part of a group of six ordinands finding our feet in context at a local church, working out how and where we can contribute and seeing the theology we’re thrashing out in the classroom worked out in people’s lives.
Here, surrounded by fellow students on similar journey to mine, I feel supported and encouraged. I’m able to ask all my questions, be it at the front of lectures where I customarily sit, or around the dinner table between classes. Others’ questions challenge my thinking, giving me no chance to get stuck in a rut or chase my own theological tail for too long. Doing life with my fellow students is a blessing, be it the pastoral group where we uphold each other week by week and talk over the visceral issues encountered in our contexts, the Anglican Story seminar where we ordinands confront the realities of life in the good old C of E every Friday, or the hundreds of other little moments around college; ad-hoc counselling on the sofas in the study block, tips on handy books whispered to each other in the library, Wednesday afternoon bike rides, impromptu jam sessions in the chapel (how I miss having a drum kit!), the growing group in Caroline’s #trinityFridayselfie at coffee after communion (some of whom are starting to embrace #flowershirtfriday)… the list goes on.
I had a beautiful epiphany on the morning of our college quiet day. Everyone began the day with the best of intentions, greeting each other as we passed in obedient silence. As I nodded at the people I share my life with, smiling at them by way of hello, I realised how naturally my smiles came, how much every single person I met gave me a genuine sense of joy. We were invited that day to make a list of things for which we were thankful, and for me number one was the community. I had definitely found what I had come looking for.
Posted 15 February 2017