by Jennie Hurd.
I realised recently that it is thirty years since I candidated for the ordained ministry of the Methodist Church. How did that happen? It’s more than half my lifetime ago, yet elements of the experience are as fresh to me as yesterday, if not fresher, given the effects of muddle (sorry – middle) age.
It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to work out that my initial ministerial training took place in the early 1990s. This was at what was then still Queen’s College, Birmingham. I’m more than prepared to stand corrected, but I believe the cohort of which I was part was among the first to be intentionally trained as reflective practitioners. I think I’m also right in saying that such an approach was pretty much still in its infancy. Although South American liberation theologians such as Gustavo Gutiérez and Leonardo Boff had already introduced us to the hermeneutical or pastoral cycle as a reflective theological method, Duncan B Forrester ‘s edited collection of essays, Theology and Practice, had only just been published, as had Laurie Green’s Let’s Do Theology. We were still years away from Graham, Walton and Ward’s Theological Reflection: Methods and Theological Reflection: Sources, never mind the SCM Studyguide to Theological Reflection. As students in the early 90s, we were assigned to Theological Reflection Groups and encouraged to reflect. I’ll be honest with you that there were some of us who were never really sure what we were being asked to do. However, something must have happened as I now can’t imagine any other approach to life, faith or ministry apart from a theologically reflective one. It’s part of who I am. I seek to make it my praxis.
I was reminded of this not long ago by chance in conversation with a contemporary from Queen’s. We were reflecting (yes!) on how one ‘r’ word – ‘reflection’ – seems to have been supplemented (or maybe even supplanted, we wondered?) in ministerial formation and practice by another ‘r’ word, namely ‘resilience’. Has over-emphasis on reflection led to the need for a new focus on resilience, or is it lack of reflection on our practice that means we need to work on our resilience for ministry in the twenty first century? I cannot believe it’s only the same first letter that links reflection and resilience in pastoral practice, and while these thoughts are only very tentative, I thought I’d share them in the hope of receiving some wisdom in return (or at risk of being told all the thinking’s been done already, and I need to “Get with it, Grandma”…)
Reflecting on experience, I now appreciate the value of those groups at Queen’s. Our reflection is most beneficial for our practice when it’s enfolded in prayer and carried out with others. Part of the genius of early Methodism was the Class Meeting, and you are fortunate indeed if you belong to such a group today. For ordained people, Ministerial Development Review and pastoral supervision offer the opportunity for sharing in reflection on practice. Spiritual direction or accompaniment offers the possibility of something similar for all. Often, books and their authors become our conversation partners in reflective practice, as well as conversations with colleagues, where that is possible. Good reflection which strengthens our resilience in life and ministry is for me, by definition, carried out in conjunction with others, to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the context. The corollary to this, then, is that reflection can become detrimental to our resilience, undermining it or perhaps even damaging it, when it is carried out in isolation. I wonder if this tendency has sometimes been allowed to take hold. Reflection is not necessarily the enemy of resilience – it’s not an either/or (and I doubt anyone ever suggested it was) – but it follows that reflection which comes from too individualistic a focus may be more likely to lead to distorted thinking and harmful self-criticism. When carried out as a collaborative exercise, as through this website, theological reflection is intended to build resilience and strengthen our practice. It is a tool for our flourishing, and we need both, inextricably linked.
 Forrester, Duncan B (ed) 1990, Theology and Practice, London: Epworth Press
 Green, Laurie 1990, Let’s Do Theology: A Pastoral Cycle Resource Book, London: Mowbray
 Graham, Elaine, Walton, Heather and Ward, Frances 2005, Theological Reflection: Methods, London: SCM Press
 _______ 2007, Theological Reflection: Sources, London: SCM Press
 Thompson, Judith, Pattison, Stephen, Thompson, Ross 2008, SCM Studyguide to Theological Reflection, London: SCM Press