PhD Pathway Reflection

PhD Title: ‘Descent and Ascent in De Trinitate: Prayer as a Way of Being in God.’

It was as I studied for a masters degree in theology at St Andrews that I really began to discern a call to ordained ministry. It is hardly a surprise then that I’ve found my doctoral research over the last three years to be the most formational aspect of my training for the Priesthood. For me discipleship, and therefore formation for ministry, has been at least in part a process of “faith seeking understanding” (St Anselm, Proslogion, c.1078).

My name is Kirsty Borthwick, and I’m an ordinand from the Diocese of St Albans, in my third of four years at Westcott. Alongside my attachment, regular placements, rowing with my Cambridge college, and a brief stint as Senior Student, my time is largely focused around my PhD research on the role of the Trinity in prayer. With the help of St Augustine of Hippo, I’m essentially pulling apart what it means to intercede “in the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ”.

And I am excited by the many ways in which my pathway is challenging and strengthening my calling, drawing me into deeper relationship with God, and equipping me for ordained ministry in the years ahead. Above all, God has used my research to begin teaching me three important lessons for ministry: 1) to persevere in prayer; 2) to communicate the gospel with heart and mind; and 3) to seek out, listen to and equip God’s people.

Prayer is such a beautiful gift, a means to encounter God in the most intimate of ways. I’ve been especially inspired by Augustine’s writing on the psalms. He teaches that because the church is the body of Christ, we pray the psalms with and in Christ as the whole Christ. Augustine calls this concept the totus Christus. And it’s so much more than an idea. When we pray the psalms we are praying with and in Christ as he prays – in the desert place, in the Temple, on the mountain top, in the garden, on the cross, and at the right hand of the Father. What an invitation to prayer! And what riches this has brought, and continues to bring, to my praying of the psalms at the daily offices. By entering into Christ’s prayer, we are entering into the prayers of the whole church, who in turn pray for us, as we pray together for the reconciliation of the whole created order. I’ve never been more convinced of the existence of a communion of saints.

And again and again my pathway has both equipped and challenged me to communicate clearly and inclusively, with heart and mind, the wonders of the mystery of God. My supervisor is constantly on guard against ‘academic speak’ creeping into my thesis (for which I really must thank him more often!), and so my writing is hopefully getting clearer in pointing to Christ. As I immerse myself day in day out in the riches of the Christian tradition, I hope my preaching is becoming seeped in those riches. And through both preaching at my attachment and delivering my first conference papers, I’ve become more and more aware that if Jesus is the Word of God, how we communicate matters profoundly. I gave a paper to other research students last year on how we might teach theology through Lego. And I had a great time exploring the meaning of the Trinity with a group of primary school children recently.

By the grace of God, I’m hoping my PhD might equip me to get outside the ivory towers of Cambridge and explore theology in its true home, the life of the Church.

And so thirdly, my pathway here at Westcott has nurtured in me a call to seek and equip God’s people to worship God with their minds as well as their hearts. I was recommended at BAP as a Potential Theological Educator, and whilst I’m still not entirely sure what that means, I’m increasingly certain that God is calling me to be a theologian in the parish. And God has been humbling me again and again with the importance of listening above all else. Everyone is a theologian. God calls each of us to worship him with heart and mind. And the most profound insights on the mystery of God often come from those all too easily ignored, both here in Cambridge and around the world – children, the elderly, those with little academic education, those of oppressed ethnic or racial backgrounds, those living on the breadline. If I’m going to be called by the church to educate, I want my ministry to being there. And I want to be the first to listen and learn.

Finally, I want to offer a huge thanks to the community here at Westcott. Writing a PhD is really hard, and has at times been incredibly lonely. But the rhythm of prayer, the depth of friendships, and the laughter (and the tears) found in this small sanctuary on Jesus Lane, have kept me grounded and sane and supported in prayer. For that I will be forever grateful.

Kirsty Borthwick, Third Year Ordinand, St Alban’s Diocese.

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