Today has been as close to perfect as it gets. Blue sky, white clouds, lots of theology lectures to go to, and a chance to watch the tide roll in on my favorite beach, favorite dog at my side (don’t tell Molly).
I have often thought about coming to St Andrews for the Theology and the Arts conference, but have never quite found the time. A kindly grant from the bishop meant that this year it has happened — and I suspect will happen again and again hereafter.
A lot of a priest’s time is spent teaching — one on one, and in groups, we teach about prayer, scripture, theology, liturgy and even (when it is absolutely necessary) church history. I learn a lot through the process — people bring different perspectives and different questions. But much of the material is very basic. So it is a delight to come away to a conference where I am out of my depth, working right at the edge of my comfort zone, amidst people who know far more than I do.
I am not the only priest at the conference, but I think I am the only ‘parish priest’. That’s fine by me. But I bet there are other priests out there who would love this as much as I do. And as the day went on (and we moved from the expert lectures to the post-grad/ budding academic papers) I realised that I wasn’t really so far out of my depth. There were things that I knew from parish life that simply hadn’t occurred to some of the people around the table. And I was quite pleased when someone tried to challenge a paper on the grounds that it wasn’t nuanced enough — the nuanced argument being the one my congregations got in a sermon a few weeks ago. (I didn’t think it was nuanced. It just seemed obvious from where I was standing.)
I have always believed we need to hold church and academy together, but have assumed that it is largely academics with Christian commitment who have to build the bridge. Perhaps we need more than that. Maybe we need church people to dabble more in theology and go to conferences like this.
It is great fun.
Especially in sunny and splendid St Andrews.
(And Trevor Hart can still pack more into an hour lecture than anyone I know. If you ever get a chance to listen to him, don’t pass it by.)