Sunday 29 October 2023

Theological College


(A photo of me at college reading a theology book about the gospel of Matthew. I'm wearing a grey hoody, red wooly hat and no thick black glasses)

Last year, a friend sponsored a theological taster course for me. Initially, I hesitated. I felt called to do more in my faith 11 years ago, but as my marriage ended in divorce, Mum died, I became unemployed, bankrupt, had a breakdown, and fought alcoholism, all in the space of 18 months. Subsequently, I wondered if I imagined my calling.

Over the years, I became an armchair theologian as relatives and friends bought me theology books for Christmas and birthdays. I preached on Facebook and Instagram for my church, led bible study groups, and wrote studies on biblical books, themes, and events. Love of theology persisted but was now the time?

Children posed the biggest challenge. A12 and J12 started secondary school, and W14 began school after eight years of home schooling. This could give time to explore something for me, but would the kids need me through this transition period? Should I wait? I decided I couldn’t.  Hard to explain, but I felt if I didn’t do it now, I wouldn’t later.

The course started well, but I quickly realised I wasn’t an 18-21-year-old university student who could drink, stay up late, have a social life, and easily pursue dual degrees. Being disabled and a parent of four teenagers made studying difficult. My age, health, and life were now forcibly considered. Mentality versus physicality hit. Where some peers struggled to realise that history, language, people, and culture shaped Christianity and that the bible wasn’t God’s precise spoken word or historically accurate, my mind thrived on validation of my Christian realism and existing knowledge. However, while I was empowered mentally, I struggled physically.

I’m bedbound 3 or 4 days a week. Either my body says “Not today” or it’s physically recovering. This made studying, attending class, taking notes, and assignment writing difficult. I was mentally capable but had to prioritise my physical health. Each student had 7 weeks for assignment writing but being sporadically bedbound for 18 days left me with little time. The college was fantastic and granted extensions but the more I had, the more it affected the next deadline, creating distance between learning and writing. With patience, Hannah’s encouragement, a few meltdowns, and a lot of self-doubt, I succeeded. The writing tutor even requested to use my assignments as a model for others, because results were rarely that high.

The first module, Introduction to Bible Studies, investigated biblical literature, source, influence, and style. This module’s two assignments focused on Psalms or Matthew’s Gospel. I started with the Psalms, which required demonstrating their original purpose, use, function, and relevance today. The next assignment, from the opposing theme, critically analysed and detailed a piece of text. Amazingly, I received 72% in both assignments.

Module 2, Introduction to Church History, was fantastic! James, my tutor, made history fun and interesting. The first assignment was to write a leaflet outlining a location’s Christian significance. I chose Whitby but found it irrelevant after careful investigation. James allowed an opposing approach after meeting and hearing my conflicting thoughts, but in the next lecture, he anonymously exemplified me by warning the class that students who disagreed with him on assignments would fail due to naive and idiotic attitudes. Naturally, I did it anyway. I scored 60%, my lowest. Reading James’ feedback was the win. He appreciated my approach and agreed Whitby wasn’t a big deal, but he thought my reasoning jumps were wrong. I was thrilled since I passed and he reversed his prior remarks. The second essay was based on themed topics. After my previous assignment, James suggested I try “The Filioque,” an Eastern and Western Creedal debate, which was an unpopular essay choice among students. I get why—this nearly broke me. Reading and comprehending it was difficult. It got so bad I wrote to the College registrar ready to quit the course! Despite the tears, upset, frustration, and difficulty, I got 77%!!

Module 3, Spirituality and Discipleship and Module 4, Foundation for Reflective Practise were the final modules, but required one assignment each. They both sought personal reflection but connecting them to Christianity or academic theology differed. My only experience of personal reflective writing was this blog, so I thought both would be academically difficult. I was pleasantly surprised. The first assignment, chosen from many themes, was based on a 12-step programme. I specifically joined one for personality disorders. As an alcoholic with AA experience who also struggles with mental health, the programme alongside the course mentally, physically and spiritually improved my outlook to who I am and the programme’s function. I scored 68% but could have scored higher. In the editing stage, I chose between demonstrating the programme structure and how that interlinks to specific areas over the 12 weeks or including minute details to highlight personal moments. I chose the latter which, based on my tutor's comments, potentially was incorrect as he found I condensed too much into a small word count.

The last assignment was to use a scholarly reflective model to analyse an issue within your church role. My pre-existing social media ministry and a recent incident was chosen. This process provided a versatile model that applied processes and actions to a situation reflectively, allowing a more focused and positive changing outcome. I scored 65% but let myself down. It was rushed. I had one month to compose it and struggled to balance health, time, and the assignment due to continuous extensions. Subsequently, I made errors throughout. After the Filioque assignment, I didn’t want complex theology that took time to assimilate, so I chose the simplest reflective model, which, with the errors, lowered my score.

65%, like 60%, is great considering my lowest scores are many people’s highest but compared to my true ability, I was annoyed. The year, however, was great! It proved I could excel in theology despite self-doubt and disability. I opted to do the second year after much consideration, prayer, and pestering of Hannah. I’ve completed six weeks of the first module and have six weeks until my assignment is due. Self-doubt has crept in, but after writing and reading the above, I know this year will be amazing!