Judith Parry says studying theology helped her bridge the gap between full-time work and retirement, as well as opening up a new way to look at the Bible.
An elder at Papakura East Presbyterian Church in South Auckland, Judith had been working as a teacher. When she retired several years ago, “my youngest son [the Rev Nathan Parry] decided I needed something to do” and offered her a course as a gift. Judith chose the paper “Presbyterian Studies” at EIDTS (the Ecumenical Institute of Distance Theological Studies), which explores Presbyterian identity from Celtic Scotland to the present day, including the Reformation, the writing of the Westminster Confession, the development of sessions, presbyteries, and assemblies, and Presbyterianism in Aotearoa New Zealand
Every fortnight, the students had an online discussion about questions set by lecturer the Rev John Roxborogh.
Judith says she enjoyed getting to know her classmates, all of whom except her were training for ministry. It was a fascinating glimpse into what was happening in other Presbyterian churches around the country, she says.
The course involved regular assignments but no exams, which Judith says appealed strongly to her.
She describes the course as a good transition into retirement. “I enjoyed having something to do with my brain again.”
Last year, Judith decided to study another paper on the New Testament.
She says it made her re-evaluate her approach to the Bible, which she had previously seen only through a devotional lens.
“I had put God in the Bible. I found that he came out of the Bible.
“I found that my approach to Scripture became entirely different.”
Rather than treating the Bible solely with reverence, she could appreciate different forms of criticism and better determine her stance on them. “It was a mind-exploding experience.”
“I’ve used the Bible devotionally all my life. I never knew that people thought about the Bible in the way that I’m discovering at present.”
Being introduced to “extremes in criticism” has not shaken her faith, she says, but has instead deepened her approach.
This year Judith is taking the paper “Reading Women in the Bible”, which also included a residential school at the start of the year. She has been looking at Hagar, Abraham, and the relationship between Jews, Muslims and Christians.
The Rev Geoff New, Papakura East’s minister, has been very supportive of those in the church undertaking further study, Judith says.
The tutors have also supplied prompt responses to questions. “You are able to have a really good in-depth conversation with them.”
Judith is involved in prayer ministry in her church, and says having more Biblical examples and context has been helpful. Similarly in the home group lead by her husband, she has been able to apply what she has learned to discussions.
Judith says she’d encourage anyone with some spare time to consider theological study. “I would say go for it. I’ve learned so much; really it’s been incredible.”
“It gives me a difference balance to my life.”
EIDTS director the Very Rev Bruce Hansen says the institute has between 80 and 90 students each year, all studying by distance. All courses are distance learning, with educating lay people an important aim, Bruce says. “A lot of people only come for a subject; they don’t come for a qualification.”
By Amanda Wells