I had to write a reflection recently on a “critical incident” at Easter School. Easter school is my annual week at college, which tops up the weekends away. We were told to select an incident, which was significant, and to look closely at one particular point in the week when we had encountered a genuinely new perspective. Any way, after uploading it I thought it may be a useful insight to my first year at STETS for my friends. So you will find it repeated below, enjoy ;-).
Critical moment, I’m not sure I want a critical moment was my thinking as we entered Easter school. Here I was going away for a week to a place I didn’t particularly want to go to. Away from my family, at a time when they were in need of me, away from a complex new project the week after I started it. Critical moment, I was pretty sure Easter school itself was a critical moment, let alone trying to identify some teaching, or moment within the week that had impacted me. Never the less I was told this this learning was part of my formation, that would help me be a leader within the Church I felt God was calling me to lead within. So I reflected.
It was the word formation that had already been at the heart of some of my frustration leading up to Easter school. STETS is a loving, encouraging environment and one that is built for those who are seeking to grow. However in my paranoid self-doubt, I had grown to feel that my views were accepted in the way one might accept a young child’s view of God, sweet but a little literalistic and naive. I am sure that many if not all theology students, feel similar concerns whatever college they attend, but the truth was, I had been struggling. Perhaps not unusually for an “early years” theology student I had quite an interest in theology before I started STETS. This mainly manifested itself around those typically from the evangelical charismatic viewpoint, often from an apologetics stance. The reality was that I had been studying largely under those who reinforced my already formed viewpoint. Which is a little ironic, because for most of the first year at STETS I had been struggling with what I perceived was a one sided version of the theology being presented in the formation of the students. Perhaps it was the swing from one viewpoint to the other that disturbed me. Perhaps it was my view of gaps I perceived in the study guides. Whatever it was and whether true or not, it was obvious to me and a little more obvious to my tutor group that the frustration had been building over the year. I found myself reading books and articles form theologians that’s had blatantly be put into the reading to challenge our viewpoints. Crying out “but what about this whole other viewpoint over here that you have completely left out.” Why did it matter so much to me? It matted because of that ridiculous word formation. STETS was here to help me become the leader I so desperately want to be, and if they did a one sided job of that, would I become a poor leader of Christ’s people? The week moved on and the frustrations subsided a little, and then Friday came and the silence began.
We sat in a school hall and before us stood a man who was going to lead us in a silent retreat, oh joy. His name was Brother Patrick Moore, and he was a soft-spoken gentle man. But this was not the gentleness of weakness that the world perceives; it was a gentleness that radiated self-assurance. It was a gentleness that said, I know my God and my God knows me. I was transfixed with the assurance in his sessions. So much so that I am not sure I actually heard much of his teaching, but he said one thing that will stick with me. Brother Patrick mentioned the rhetorical smörgåsbord that I have heard so often when referring to teaching. Brother Patrick didn’t use the word smörgåsbord, but he did say something about dropping by the wayside things we had picked up that week that we didn’t need, and keeping the things that were meant for us. Then he sent of us of in silence for some time on our own. Not one who enjoys being static in silence, I decided to walk to the top of a near by hill. With a strange mix of dissatisfaction and peace from Brother Patrick flowing around my head, I climbed the hill. The word formation came and went in my mind. Taking and leaving from the smörgåsbord came and went. Then the words “your formation is in Christ” came and stayed. Call it what you will, I would call it Gods Holy Spirit, but there was a sudden realisation that STETS was my smörgåsbord and not my formation. My formation as a leader for Christ’s Church was in Christ, and I would take from STETS all that was appropriate to take, and leave what was not for me to take.
There is much I can learn from this encounter and I would love to say my frustration has stayed away from me since my “Critical” revelation, but in truth as with most things in my life I often need reminding that my formation is in Christ. STETS is still a great environment to explore my vocation whatever Church tradition I come from and exploring my tradition and more importantly my faith within such a welcoming and encouraging environment has more positives then negatives. In my future ministry there will be many people who I disagree with, and who will lead a Christian life to the best of their ability with their understanding of what the scriptures teach. To think some how that they or I have it all sewn up, is a ridiculous idea. The key is perhaps to unite in our similarities, debate humbly our differences and only ever divide as a last resort over the fundamentals. I really am happy that I did not seek to complete my training in an environment that would simply enforce my own preconceived ideas. My formation in Christ via STETS often means that I have my views challenged. I circle away from my beliefs to then return to them with renewed vigour and reason. Other times I return to my views with a slightly different more informed spin on them, but always returning to them knowing I am being formed by Christ and no one else.