When God speaks through community
[This post was originally a testimony shared last week by current Trinity student Amy White in chapel with our community of residential students.]
There are many testimonies that I could share about God’s faithfulness in my life over the years, but today I want to share with you about how he has been working in my life through this community over the past year.
My introduction to Trinity was at Open Day in February 2017, and one of the things that impacted me most on that day was something said in Justin’s infamous ‘MacGyver’ lecture. He described theology as listening to the Holy Spirit: through the text of Scripture, through Church history, and through the voices around us today. While this may not seem revolutionary to you, for me it was a bit of a revelation, as up until this point my view of theology was ‘learning stuff from lecturers and books’! The idea of doing theology through listening to the Spirit speak through those around me was not something that had really entered my head. I didn’t realise at the time how true this concept of theology was going to be for me in the coming year.
I arrived at Trinity in the summer of 2017 burnt out and broken. My understanding of God’s grace had been damaged through teaching and experience, and I was very nervous, bordering on fearful, of authority figures. Emma was clearly very scary and I tried to keep on her ‘good side’!
I hadn’t realised that this view of authority had also affected the way I saw God. While I would never have consciously thought this, my unconscious expectation was that he was holding a metaphorical stick ready to sort me out when I was out of line.
My introduction to Trinity life was not initially as a student but as a member of staff, and my boss’s name was Grace. Those who know her know she is not just Grace by name but also grace by nature. I didn’t quite know how to relate to someone who left me a post-it note on my computer screen telling me I was a blessing, and for a while I just thought she was a little weird!
When I started as a student, I was placed in a pastoral group with Andrew as my tutor, who as I’m sure many of you know is an amazing example of grace-filled leadership. Instead of being met with rules and expectations, I was met with grace and kindness. He patiently explained the leadership ethos of this college, and I slowly realised that Emma was not someone to be wary of!
Slowly but surely, seemingly insignificant encounters and exchanges began to make an impact…
I remember the first time I was late for chapel, panicking in the car about the fact that I was going to be late, and hurrying up the ‘walk of shame’, muttering to the friendly student at the door ‘Sorry I’m late’ and being greeted with ‘Don’t worry! God loves the late!’
‘That’s when I realised how true it was that theology is listening to the Holy Spirit, and that one of the ways he speaks is in community. Through this community, grace has been restored to my understanding and experience.’
In a doctrine seminar which included a rather lively exchange of views, I felt for the first time in a long time like I was able to be me, to put forward an argument and be listened to. Afterwards though, I felt incredibly guilty and thought that maybe I had been too opinionated and outspoken (that has been known to happen from time to time!). When I arrived at college the next day though, I was greeted by Elliot, who happened to be on the opposing side of the argument the previous day. After greeting me, he went on to thank me for my contributions to the discussion and said that I had really made him think. This was SO unexpected—someone thanking me for disagreeing with them? What kind of place is this??
I could give many more examples but the latest was at Freshers’ Fayre this year when I went to sign up for the worship team. Dave asked if I was interested in joining, and I made some comment like, ‘Well, that’s normally the main contribution I bring to most places!’ He immediately responded, “No, it’s not. Your main contribution is you!” Mind blown. Heart touched. Theology recalibrated.
It has only been as I have started this year feeling decidedly different from twelve months ago that I have begun to reflect on what has happened in that time. That’s when I realised how true it was that theology is listening to the Holy Spirit, and that one of the ways he speaks is in community. Through this community, grace has been restored to my understanding and experience—not through reading a book (although I am a big fan of reading books!), but by the Holy Spirit’s words in the mouths of those around me. God has graciously and gently spoken truth to me, often times without me being aware, patiently changing my view of myself, leaders, and most importantly, him.
So please remember: every conversation you have, whether at the lunch table, in a lecture, during community coffee or just passing in the corridor, can be an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak through you, for theology to happen, and for lives to be changed.