BTh Pathway Reflection

I was attracted to the University of Cambridge BTh pathway at Westcott because of the mix of teaching, learning and assessment methods, and the emphasis placed on reflection and preparation for future ministry.  As with all pathways, there were elements that in practice worked well, and there were aspects that could have been improved.  If I was to make the choice again, I would still choose the BTh. 

Joining theology undergraduates for lectures at the Faculty of Divinity (the DivFac) was an academically stimulating experience.  The lectures were usually fast paced, thought provoking, and often challenging.  The small group supervisions and discussions through the Theological Federation were also an important part of this pathway.  Preparing for, and taking part in, these supervisions, provided space to reflect further on the lectures and the reading material, and to explore how the relation to ministry in contemporary contexts.  It was an additional bonus that these groups were usually ecumenical, and were led by staff from across the different houses of the Federation.

In the first year, the papers studied in the BTh pathway were mainly set ones, such as: Doctrine, NT Greek, Belief and Practice in the Early Church, and Reading the Christian Bible.  However, there was also a limited choice of other papers, from which I chose Themes in World Christianities.  The first year felt to give me a good foundation, and there was a lot of material across a broad spectrum covered.  In the second year, there was more opportunity to concentrate on specific areas of study in more depth, for example OT and NT exegesis on Isaiah and the Gospel of John, theologies of hope, political theology, and ethics. 

One of the highlights and also one of the challenges for me was the Pastoral Portfolio element of the BTh.  A highlight because having dedicated time to reflect theologically on experiences from placements and attachments was incredibly helpful.  Indeed, the introduction to theological reflection models in year one provided a valuable space to stop and think, to reflect with others, and to consider practical stimuli such as videos, photos, and case studies.  Challenging because defining theological reflection seems to be a perennial issue, and this part of the course often felt very different to other areas of study.  The individual supervisions for the assessed essays for this paper though were very helpful and the material studied for this paper is probably the material I have most frequently referred to during curacy.

Another highlight of the BTh pathway was the link to a Cambridge College.  I matriculated (enrolled, in a Harry Potter-esque ceremony) through Selwyn College and was attached to the chaplaincy department for Sunday and mid-week placement.  The Cambridge environment was a bit of a shock to me to start with, but being placed within the chaplaincy department was very helpful.  Experience of college chaplaincy and chapel life and worship was an enriching and inspiring experience.  This was especially due to being able to reflect with, and learn from, an experienced and wise priest, the Dean and Chaplain.  This was also helpful in discerning a curacy placement, as it gave me a good understanding of the importance for me of regular communication in an open and honest working environment with a supervisor – it helped me to realise that the working relationship with the TI would be a crucial element of curacy for me.

Common to all pathways, the BTh also included a social context placement for 40 hours. I undertook a placement in a secondary school chaplaincy department – again, thanks to the generosity and openness of the chaplain, this placement was a formative experience. 

The final placement was an 8-week intensive parish placement in the Summer.  I went to Manchester with three BTh colleagues to the Westcott house there and was placed in an evangelical parish in the inner city of Manchester.  Before going to Manchester, I was sceptical about the benefits of this placement, but I had the most amazing time!  It was challenging to experience a different tradition but it was also an immensely healing experience following previous experiences of a similar tradition. This insight into parish ministry on an estate type parish also helped to reinforce the sense of call I felt, and provided me with many new, challenging, affirming, and sometimes slightly bizarre experiences!

Finally, I must mention the Yale Exchange Programme.  During my first year, I was fortunate enough to have an application for a third year of study approved by Ministry Division, so that I could participate in this exchange.  Being at Yale Divinity School (YDS) for a semester was a fantastic experience, and one that I am very grateful for.  The diversity and inclusivity of the student body gave me a much broader perspective.  It also enabled discussions in courses such as Baptism and Eucharist in Ecumenical Dialogue to be wide-ranging and fascinating with twelve different denominations represented in the twelve students in the room!  The depth and the rigour of courses such as the preaching, and the pastoral care, courses was inspiring and challenging in equal measure, and has been hugely relevant to ministry – I have drawn on my learning from these courses often during my curacy.  The opportunity to be rooted within an Anglican community at the Episcopal Berkeley Divinity School (BDS) was something I greatly appreciated.  The rhythm of daily prayer and daily eucharist at BDS enabled me to be open to experiencing the wide variety of worship during the ‘morning worship’ slot at YDS – the breadth and variety of this worship was breath-taking!  I would highly recommend this exchange programme.

The Rev’d Rachel Beck, Assistant Curate at St Giles, Lincoln.

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