Some time ago I wrote about the challenges of finding time to study, to read theological reading material, to be a reflective practitioner who regularly studies scripture, but more precisely, theory, practice, research and various ‘ologies’.
I wrote in that old blog post that there is a challenge there: a very difficult one to find time and prioritise time to study, to write, to read and to reflect.
It’s clear that reflection and study are supposed to be key elements of a priest’s ministry, and this reflected across the denominations, across the theological preferences and it is written about in various books. Two being, John Pritchard’s, The Life and Work of a Priest - in his chapter “Inquisitive Learner: Digging into theology”. Also, Gordon Laythrop’s fantastic, The Pastor: a spirituality - in a section called “Study that delights in what is”.
And I love the theory of this.
But my issue has always been with the practice of this. Ministry “timetable’s” always get filled up with face to face things, or prepping for meetings, or occasional offices, or visits. And before anyone says it, that’s before even opting into anything and saying, “YES!”
While study has its place in this framework (supposedly), actually, like prayer, and worship, and devotions, study gets pushed out - because actually, no one sees if you don’t do it. And deep down, no one actually cares.
And certainly we are called in prepping sermons etc, to read widely and I use my commentaries and related books but actually, in practice, the other reading falls off the agenda.
And in everyday parish life - it doesn’t seem to matter - but actually it does!
If you’re a pioneer heading up a particular ministry with a particular subculture, study of that subculture, of the context, of theory, of research would be of paramount importance.
But actually, where ever we are planted, wherever we minister (as lay or ordained), this reading and prepping and study is just as important.
And sshhhhh, don’t let on, but the study we should be doing shouldn’t just be preparing us to minister ‘nicely’ at St. Squiggleburts, Little Warbuton, if that’s where we are placed.
No, our study and preparing and reading and research should be about calling the people we minister to journey on with us to where God is calling. So that God’s kingdom may be built.
But for time and the shape of ministry (I may have mentioned that in other posts ;)).
After my last guilt-ridden occasion of feeling utterly rubbish because I wasn’t studying - (because I know it is important and I value it and I grow through it) - I prioritised ten books to read in the year. Have I read any of them? No.
Because when I have had the moments to read I’ve either been reading devotional stuff (quite rightly, desperately scratching around trying to find God in this), or if I have been able to “study” I’ve ended up reading the Diocesan suggested Book Group text, which somewhat ironically is probably there to make sure we keep studying.
Or I’ve been reading for an assignment I’m writing, which while helpful and great to do, and reflective, and praxis informed, etc, means that I’m not able to read about where my heart in ministry really is, or also to prepare me for where I feel I may be being called to.
So my basic point is:
Study is important.
Study doesn’t fit.
Study is a big fat joke.
So whereas last time I was in this place I felt like I needed to prioritise a list of books I would read in the imaginary hours I mystically create, or in the hours before bed after working 12 hour days.
This time I’ve come to a different conclusion:
I’m purposefully not going to study.
More than this, I’m going to cover up all of my theological books, I’m literally going to drape my book shelves with material so I can’t even see the books are there.
Now naturally, I’ll keep out some books that I will use in “everyday” ministry, things like commentaries. And I’ll also keep out a few devotional books, and a Bible of course.
And don’t worry folks, I’ll most definitely be keeping out my vast and exciting collection of Common Worship liturgical texts.
And yes, I will have to keep out the book for my “Book Group” and the books I’m using for my assignment due in - in 19 days (ha!)
But the rest: sack it.
Now I know being a theological and reflective practitioner is about being informed, about being inspired and about growing as a person called by God. I know that. I believe in the need to study.
But I feel hoodwinked again about this issue.
Because when it comes to it, very few people actually care if I’m being transformed into the likeness of Christ - they just want the jobs doing.
1. Did the funeral happen - TICK
2. Did the baptism happen - TICK
3. Did the wedding happen - TICK
4. Did the Sunday service happen - TICK
5. Did the meeting happen and the minutes get written - TICK
6. Did we begin to capture a sense of God’s call for us as a people - UNIMPORTANT
7. Did I encounter God through a revelation through prayer or scripture - UNIMPORTANT
8. Did I grow in fervour for God and his Word and the ministry and mission of his church - UNIMPORTANT (for further information see points 1 to 5)
So I’m going to cover up my many books, my hundreds of pounds worth of the most energising and informing spiritual and theological writings I’ve ever come across.
As soon as my assignment is in I’m going to remove from my diary that ridiculous phrase “study day” that only ever gets scrawled all over with other tasks anyway (at least until another assignment comes along)
Down with guilt.
And actually, for now at least, “down with reflective practice” (except in the case of an assignment), it’s just a big fat joke.