Tonight (Monday) two new ventures for Theology House, Christchurch begin. At Theology House itself we will host the first audio conference for Christchurch based theology students enrolled with Otago University. It is a small beginning - a few students and just one course this semester out of a possible four - a small beginning, that is, for TH being Christchurch host - Otago has delivered distance teaching via audio conferences for years. But I am looking forward to this start: I love theological teaching. Although I won't be teaching anything, I am glad to have the opportunity to facilitate this new opportunity for theological learning.
Down the road, at St Margaret's College - an Anglican secondary school with an amazing chapel-in-the-round capable of seating 500 or so - the first of a six part conference begins on A Good Childhood. The six weeks will explore a variety of topics related to the bringing up of children in the context of NZ society - a society sadly which has seen over recent years some appalling treatment of children, including callous murders, at odds with living in a sub tropical paradise. One of the things which gives me special pleasure about this conference, which, I should hasten to add, I have had hardly anything to do with organising - it was set well in motion before I arrived at TH - is recognising that two of the speakers demonstrate a particular faithfulness to God. Let me explain.
Many years ago when I was an undergraduate student I was involved not only with the local Christian Union, but also with the national evangelical student movement known as TSCF (Tertiary Students Christian Fellowship). In the context of conferences and council meetings I got to know many other Christian students. In those years, under the leadership of one of the most inspiring Christian leaders I have ever known, Gavin MacIntosh, a strong theme woven through talks and Bible studies was the importance of being Christians in the world as well as in the church. God was calling some of us to church ministry and to overseas mission, but God was also calling some of us to be Christian teachers, doctors, accountants, etc. We had a clear understanding of what it meant to be salt of the earth and light to the world: God's mission was everywhere and for every Christian in every sphere of life.
Well, what has happened since then, now some thirty years later? Unexpectedly we have scattered to the four corners of the earth. Some have become ministers and missionaries. Most of us (as far as I can tell) have settled into life in the usual ways - married, with children, mortgages, worries, local church responsibilities. In some cases the ideals that we would marry a wonderful Christian partner and live happily ever after have been shattered. Sadly, some of us are no longer involved in visible church involvement. A few among the circle of those years have nurtured the particular flame of those years, of being a Christian in the professions, working diligently and visibly in society, seeking to influence society from the vantage point of being the best we could be in the sphere into which God has called us.
Two of those contemporaries are among the dozen or so people who will speak during the next six weeks. They stand at the top of their professions which, as it happens, are directly concerned with the well-being of children and youth. I am looking forward to hearing them, and I thank God for their faithfulness to his calling. That thankfulness also extends southwards - one of the professors of theology at Otago is another contemporary from those years!