After my initial reaction in the post ‘O no – not another geography’ I find that I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the literature on practical theology.
Indeed I would go beyond that to say that Osmer’s book [Practical theology: an introduction] has really connected with me in a way that popular Christian books haven’t managed to do for a decade.
It helped that his first worked example echoed my wife & I’s situation as a couple in ministry with young children. But beyond that helpful mirroring I can see how the wisdom that he had acquired over years of practice and theorising could genuinely take me a gear in practical and pastoral ministry, and enable me to equip others to do so as well.
He begins with a story of the Church that enters a period of resurgence as young families are attracted into it. However a crisis occurs when a climbing frame is inserted next to a barbecue picnic area. It emerges that the picnic area has been created as a memorial to the treasurer’s late husband. In the dead of night, upset by the new comings and goings around the picnic area, she paid four men to remove and reposition the climbing frame around the other side of the church.
Osmer proceeds to explain how he dealt with the situation using his best intuitive and learned pastoral skills, and gradually uncovered the story and tried to make the best of the situation. With the hindsight of an older person he comments how apt biblical and theological reflection, particularly around the ministry of reconciliation, could have helped him further.
In this story, and in other worked examples he has commented on, you begin to see that thing that is rarely taught at theology college. How to be a minister!
When someone comes to talk to you on a personal level about career choices, euthanasia, bereavement, sexuality, abortion, unemployment, homelessness, alcoholism, addiction that’s when you have to be able to bring together a plefora of skill sets – empathy, theology, biblical understanding, pastoral care & common sense. When you are rationalising how to spend scarce resources in church, in which ministries to prioritise in the next period you need a similar combination of EQ and theological related skills.
I doubt many of us get it right merely intuitively, though some luckier ones seem to have a natural affinity for the task. However this is giving me great hope that there is much that can be learned from continued reflection on practice and living an examined life.