22.9.09

Day two as a 'seminary student'.


                                            St John's Theological College
I have been asked a few questions about St John's and so I will unpack a little here. Primarily, yes, I am aware that we all make assumptions about certain training establishments, not all of them founded on any real evidence, as is the case with 'assumptions'. I 'assumed' I would not get on too well at Oak Hill or Wycliffe and so I did not pursue those colleges. I am 'under this impression' because Oak Hill, I 'presuppose' to be conservative and it was at the time of its last inspection training only one female ordinand. I know because she was invited to comment about this on a thread I started up on Fulcrum, where I was wondering who she might be. Wycliffe is presided over by Richard Turnbull and I followed the struggles there with Elaine storkey and the resignations. I think it helps if you attend a theological college where you are not too different in your thinking to the principle, or at least this was important to me. That these theological colleges would not have enabled me to grow as a woman in ministry to quite the same extent as St John's, I will never know. They may have been excellent, however, I felt that considering all human beings carry their presuppositions with them, I thought it was healthier to go to St John's travelling lightly, if you're with me, presuppositions don't half weigh a person down.

Queens in Birmingham is a college I know very little about so I only looked into its website and it was the simple description of itself as 'ecumenical' as opposed to 'Anglican' (St John's) which swung me away.

Ridley was a close second. They are associated, in my mind, with 'pioneering ministry', which for a while I wondered if the Lord was calling me into but it turns out he is asking me to be quite conventional but do interesting things from inside a conventional framework, which is the sort of person I also happen to be, conventional, at first glance but creative when you look a little further.

Cranmer, Durham was just too far geographically. My husband is an IT contactor and so staying in the middle of the country suited him better. I think Bristol was already full by the time I was applying, so that was off limits.

St John's is Open evangelical. To me, that means that it is open to fresh liturgical expressions, a reworking of the orthodox, if you like. It is conservative about issues in human sexuality but it is very open about women in ministry. Christina Baxter has done a lot of good work in this area. She endorses the NRSV, for example, because of its gender inclusivity where it is in agreement with the gender inclusive original language expression. I know that my college would not use the ESV for its worship, for example. (If you want to explore this further, see my other posts on the ESV).

There are a few more very important things for me about St Js. The ethos there is very embracing of family life. Children and spouses are very well catered for. It is very relaxed about babies who might cry and students who might need to leave a lecture to breastfeed. It celebrates us in our diversity. Neither of these needs are ones I have but i like to think that if my children were little still, I would love St Js for this.

It also has excellent academic results. They are very affirming of their students and they have us aim very high and then if the academic pressure is too much or the level of learning a little too advanced, they will then find a way to redress this, rather than starting you with something which might not stretch you enough. They recognise your previous educational experience and build on this. So where I might have had to complete a theology degree somewhere else, I can work beyond this level at St John's to see if I can secure a Masters.

The college is in a leafy suburb with good road networks and it is very compact, there is no trudging around huge pannelled, archaic library rooms or endlessly long corridors to find a book or a lecturer.

The very best thing about St John's for this student, though, is the worship. This college is evangelical so the bible teaching is excellent and the preaching is wonderful but it is also charismatic. It celebrates and encourages the Spiritual gifts and the worship is with body, heart, soul and mind. For someone, like me, who can have a bit of a penchant for academic development and staying firmly in control, in something of a rather neat organised world, learning to expect and experience God doing the unexpected is fantastic and has changed the sort of Christian I am, making me much more dependent upon God than I ever was before.

There is a range of churchmanship at St John's but I would hazard a guess that students who do not believe women can preach and teach are in a minority, but i have met two and I got on with them very well, I hasten to add, probably better than some other students because I can engage with the issues. There are also some for whom a more Anglo-catholic style of worship would be preferred. Worship changes in its style, though, to cater for a range of tastes. Yesterday, we sang modern worship songs accompanied by a band but this morning, Morning Office was Taize style, which means that we follow the lectionary but also blend in Taize prayer and instruments and singing.

There are probably as many women training as men, no, perhaps a few more men but it doesn't seem disproportionate on any side. I think the oldest ordinand is probably in his forties and the yougest is nineteen. We are former vicars' wives, civil servants, teachers, engineers, IT managers, accountants, missionaries, musicians, nurses etc. Most of us are full-time and probably three-quarters live on site or in surrounding housing, with the other quarter commuting weekly or daily like me. My journey takes up to half an hour in traffic.

So the place is just wonderful. We are nurtured, educated, fed with literal food and spiritual food. We have lectures and listen to visiting speakers. We meet together in fellowship groups for prayer support and discussions and we socialise and have a laugh. I am so grateful to God that an Open Evangelical Charismatic theological college just so happens to be on my doorstep so that my husband and children have a couple of more years yet before they are uprooted from everything they know.

The very best thing about St John's is that the college students seem not to take themselves too seriously, but they take God very, very seriously indeed!

7 comments:

ordinand said...

Glad that you are enjoying the college. I am at Trinity, Bristol and also find that the chapel worship, helps to keep me grounded in God and not just in academia...
I was interested in your definition of 'open evangelical'. It seems like its used in different circles in different ways... I fluctuate between describing myself as evangelcial and open evangelcial... (and sometimes i even describe myself as a missional neocalvinist, but that is probably over the top and i couldn't find a missional neo-calvinist college!).... I am currently using a ESV as main english bible, but will look at your post on ESV to see if it is the Extra Sexist Version...

Rachel Marszalek said...

Thanks Jon
Yes, I'd be interested to know what your response is to the ESV posts.

fibrefairy said...

do you guys ( asking both St J & Trin) not get advised to use the NRSV for study & worship then - being the c of e preferred version - I was dubious but quite like it mostly. we get marked down for quoting/referencing another version unless it is to illustrate a point of translation/ interpretation.
the one thing though I have learnt in my first year of formation is i hate labels (and if I found one that applied to me I'd immediatly want to rebel against it!!) but that somehow we need them to an extent to organise our world,
it was interesting our last w/e at coll was on the subject of racial justice - majoring on the theology of rj, so not the case based kind of approach - it was excellent - and also led to lots of discussions about language and categorisation in wider terms - all of us starting our 2nd yr and realising what we'd learnt in terms of label breakdown.

hugely fascinated to hear how people's training varies/is the same - sheds a lot of light on how people function post ordination too -

I am envious of the residential aspect of college training but would want to keep the breadth we have on our course -despite my pretty "inclusive con evo" roots ( there's a tautological label for you!!) I suspect the FT training at Queens comes closest. I have a friend doing that ATM so will watch with interest.

Rachel Marszalek said...

Hi Fibre-fairy
Yes, the Anglicised NRSV is our chapel Bible. It's been endorsed by our principle according to the back - Dr Canon Christina Baxter. Not sure if the reverend bit is right. I didn't think that she was ordained.

I'll ask if that's the version we should quote from in essays, not sure about that one.

Doug Chaplin said...

A couple of comments:

First: how things change. When I was at St John's and Canon Dr Christina Baxter (the correct order of titles – pedant alert) was not the most powerful woman in the C of E (we called her Tina), St John;s would have been seen as the edgier pioneer option and Ridley a traditionalist one.

Next, I'd be very surprised if anyone was "marked down" for using translations other than NRSV. I might mark down someone who used only one translation as though it were the original text and ended up being inaccurate (e.g. the NIV on "sinful nature"). But the idea that quoting any single translation was approved or disapproved is a very strange one.

ordinand said...

I find labels helpful to use as a shorthand for what someone believes. Obviously labels can be abused... I have interacted with a friend on this issue http://jontaylor.blogspot.com/2009/08/labels.html

I think that NRSV tends to be the default setting for essays. I don't think they are to bothered what translation is used in chapel. NIV seems to be popular, ESV is used by a few. I think Gordon Wenham was incolved in translating the ESV and was defienlty involved in writing some fo the notes for the esv study bible. The ESV Study Bible is a big seller in the states and won lots of awards.... yet no-one has really heard of it in college. I wonder why this is the case?

fibrefairy said...

"Next, I'd be very surprised if anyone was "marked down" for using translations other than NRSV. I might mark down someone who used only one translation as though it were the original text and ended up being inaccurate (e.g. the NIV on "sinful nature"). But the idea that quoting any single translation was approved or disapproved is a very strange one."
**************
you can be surprised if you like but it is the case - not saying I agree necessarily -
I'm not saying either that translation comparisons aren't encouraged - of course they are - nor is personal choice of translation controlled or dictated,nor is any one translation considered to be " as the original" but unless it is for a particular purpose - quotations in essays are NRSV.

ordinand: I read the blog exchange with your friend - he said what I've been thinking/saying for months! :-)

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.