I’m hiding this week, with fellow students and tutors, at Gladstone’s Library. We meet under the auspices of the Centre for Studies in Rural Ministry and Glyndŵr University. Here, we meet and discuss our research topics. Here we make ourselves vulnerable as we open our thoughts to our peers, and hear what they think about subjects dear to our hearts. Here, the things that have been occupying our minds are opened to scrutiny and criticism. We are, as our Professor reminds us three times a year as we meet, a band of empirically based researchers, people who are given a mandate by Jesus as he told the parable of the Sower – if you want to know what the kingdom of God is like, go and look. And so we do. We interview, we question, we count, we read and summarise, and where the theories break down, we develop better ones – which hold until the next set of research shows them to be ill-conceived, when we hone them into something even better.
It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Some people join for one seminar, and are never seen again. But others come, and somehow never quite leave. For some of us, we continue to come because we are committed to a programme of study, with an end result. But in the far distance, when I have written my last words to be assessed by an Exam Board, I hope I shall still return. As someone said in the Common Room tonight (and we all know where the best conversation takes place, but we were comfy, and had wine, so no need for the pub this time) here is a group of people who are of disparate theological views, with a shared passion for rural ministry, and a shared commitment to reflect theologically about life, in a structured way. We are, if you will, like minded. To some, we look like a bunch of geeks. But for me, here is refreshment. Even in the terror of the night before my presentation in the morning, I know that I will understand the feedback, that I will be heard and understood without need to caveat or explain. Here, I am me, with no need to apologise for what I say or how I say it. For some, yes, it’s as dry as dust. But for me, it’s living water.