Made, chipped, remade
For the last three academic years, I have been a student at Bristol Baptist College.
All that ends officially this weekend so in my last chapel service alongside my fellow leavers I gave testimony, prayed for the Children, Youth & Families students and got them to sing with me.
In my usual mickey taking ways I stood up to walk to the front and started singing:
‘Freedoms is coming
Freedom is coming
Freedom is coming oh yes I know’
I had aimed to leave the singing there but a past student had popped in, one known for her singing so she replied:
‘Oh yes I know
Oh yes I know
Oh yes I know
Jesus is coming
Jesus is coming
Jesus is coming m
Oh yes I know’
A reminder that there is always someone prepared to go a little further than me!
But aside from the banter and despite all the bravado, it is at college that I have found freedom. It might have started off as a place I had to attend, the best of a bad situation, to tick the box and move forward. But that is certainly not how it has ended. Having already gained a BA and an MA the thought of a not for credit course seemed a little bonkers if I am honest.
In reality is has meant three years of being in the best tutor group in the world. Lis, our tutor, has curated a sacred space for us to be real, to be known and to be loved. Her care and use of the pastoral cardigan has taken us on a wild set of adventures, as each one of us has had a series of highs and lows! Many secrets have been shared and many tears have been shed and we have asked each other big, deep questions. Lis is always right.
It means I’ve had three years of being part of a reflection group, two of these being in the missional group. A safe space to bring some challenges or thoughts from our contexts, to share them together and to seek to offer some theological reflection. To ask bigger questions of what it means to minster, to raise best practice and to lament together when needed.
It means I’ve heard a wide variety of lecturers on all sorts of topics from births, deaths and marriages to peace church, disability theology and pneumatology and everything in between. It has exposed me to people I have fan girled over, to people I disagree with and to people I would never have encountered. And my practice is richer because of it.
It means I have had weekly coffee chats with our Principal, 8am every Wednesday, there he is. Waiting, always keen to hear what the week has gifted us, always ready with his unique banter, always ready to listen and always ready to apologise when things are tough and the tears come. I have been held, known and still loved! Steve is usually right.
It means I have had dinner with my classmates every Tuesday, usually in the pub. We’ve shared Wine @ Nine and Gin @ Trin, created new countries, put the world to rights and laughed until we’ve cried. We’ve shared cars, bedrooms and pretty much every possession possible as we’ve remembered what essentials we’ve left at home. It is on the couch that we have told each other about our pasts, shared our hopes and dreams and prayed for one another even when there are no words left.
It means I have learnt that I am not immune to the trappings of money, sex and power. Although as a student minister the reality is I haven't had space for any money, sex or power. I shall hold onto this character formation for the days ahead. In fact I have already found myself sharing it with others.
It means I have learnt that formation is more than the classroom experience. It is in the sharing of life in all its beauty and fragmentation. It is in the road trips, the wine, tutor groups, mission trips and even in the Lady Bird Book of Mindfullness.
It means i have learnt that the process will gift more to you if you choose to submit fully to it. And yes you do have to make a choice. You have to actively choose to submit to come under the authority of others, to be accountable for your words, deeds and development. You have to choose to allow others to challenge you and to in love challenge others. To choose when to admit you are wrong and to actively seek to confess, repent and move forward.
It means I have finally learnt that when my roots are deep in God my walls built by others and myself can come down. I really don’t have to fight every battle. Nor do I need to spend every moment defending my existence or convincing others that I am real. The deep roots act as an anchor when the storms blow, provides nourishment when the rations are sparse and quenches the thirst when the drought hits. I have learnt that I am not often right.
Riches I need not
Nor man's empty praise
Thou mine inheritance now and always
Thou and Thou only first in my heart
High King of heaven my treasure Thou art
High King of heaven
My victory won
May I reach heaven's joy
Bright heaven sun!
Heart of my own heart
Still be my vision
O ruler of all