The crisis will pass…

On the first day of my second year at vicar school, I had a revelation. Not one of a spiritual nature, but of a decidedly practical variety. My revelation was that, all of a sudden, our workload had ramped up considerably in comparison to the first year.

For much of this year, deadline day requires multiple pieces of work – not the single essays of last year. That first day back in September, I’d submitted two essays written over the summer. (Ok, who I am I trying to kid, both were written the week before term began. In my defence, I do a lot of planning and writing is the very last element in my style of essay writing…) Some people would have three pieces due just before Christmas, though, thanks to the Guide Badge of Vicar School, I had just the one.

To make essay planning more bearable, I like to use as many different coloured pens as possible.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve talked of little else other than the two essays I had to undertake over the festive period. Partly because they were on interesting topics (Israel and the land & the atonement) and partly because it was a flipping nightmare to get them in on time. In the end, it took a near all-nighter on Thursday (till 2am) to get the second one in on time. Now that they’re in, my attention has turned to a 5,000 word exegesis of Galatians, due in under two month’s time and a church presentation (which has to have been completed by the same date). I’m vaguely aware of another essay due post-Easter, and more before the summer term ends. There is no time for a celebratory study day day off this week.

People often ask me about the pros and cons of mixed-mode training (the official name for the style of ordination training I’m doing), and it’s got to be said that these deadlines have illustrated several of the cons…

  • It’s all very well having essays to write during the holidays, but our ‘holidays’ usually coincide with major Christian festivals (Christmas, Easter and of course, the summer season of Christian festivals in tents). This Christmas holiday, I had 3 carol services to prepare for and was preaching on December 23rd. Then there’s family to be with and rest and relaxation to be had.
  • When you work at a church half of your time, you will often have other demands upon your time, which means that you (or at least I) can’t go with the usual student tactic of sitting down and working at something until it’s done. You get a day a week and whatever extra hours you can snatch from the rest of the week.
  • A sermon is effectively an essay (at least at my church, where 20mins plus is the norm), so the fact that I’ve preached three times in the run up to this deadline has added considerably to my word count. Fitting a sermon in within ‘normal’ work hours is also generally an impossibility.
  • Stuff happens. I got sick – even worse, I got sick the week all my church’s clergy were at a conference in California. I was down to preach and no one would have been able to fill in, so I had to get on and do it. I took a day I would otherwise have studied as a sick day, but the next day couldn’t catch up on work because a sermon absolutely had to be written. On Thursday morning, when I awoke knowing I had 3000 words to write on the atonement by bedtime, my day began with the news that a close friend’s mother had died. Dealing with the ramifications of that had to be more of a priority than theological ruminations.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t work. It does – you just have to be organised and sometimes we (ok, I) aren’t so good at that. It requires planning, dedication and a brilliant working knowledge of the different libraries of London.

I am thankful to be working at a church whose clergy are academically inclined and (seemingly) always interested in what I’m reading or writing about, and who understand the occasional need to drop everything and write essays.

It might sound odd, but I’m thankful for the essays themselves. At a traditional vicar school (particularly those based in cities beginning in ‘Ox’ or ending in ‘bridge’), you might be churning out an essay a week – becoming a veritable essay machine. Here, it’s usually two per module (and a module might last two terms) and it’s the main way in which your learning’s assessed. It’s great to get your teeth stuck into a meaty issue and have the time and space to explore it. Plus, the questions themselves don’t allow you to simply dwell in the sometimes dry world of theology. Instead, they bring the theology into the context of ministry. Take last week’s epic atonement essay – it could simply have asked me to compare and contrast the different models of the atonement, but actually asked me to do that in the context of which might work best for the mission of the church. Surely that’s a good thing to think about when you’re training to lead a church?

Essay crises are wonderful in that they are by their very nature not permanent. These things will pass, and I am very grateful for this fact.

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