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Jack Lindsay (centre) with the Rev Canon Dr Bob Derrenbacker, Dean of the Theological School, Trinity College

Student perspective: Why study a Bachelor of Theology?

Third-year Trinity College Theological School Bachelor of Theology student Jack Lindsay gives us insight into what theological study entails, and how some of life’s biggest questions can be tackled at the pub.

Why did you decide to study a Bachelor of Theology?

Since Year 11 I’ve wanted to work in the church and a Bachelor of Theology is really comprehensive. You get to look at a wide range of topics and don’t specialise too early, which is actually really good.

Now that you’re almost ready to graduate, what would you say have been your biggest takeaways from the course?

I’d say it’s the way the field has taught me how to engage with a wide variety of people. Trinity has such a diverse student body and it’s been great to talk to everyone about things that are important. Like really big questions: What is life? What is death? What are we even doing here? They’re huge questions, and to be able to talk about them in a variety of settings with people from different walks of life has been invaluable.

I’ve also appreciated the comprehensiveness and wide-ranging scope of what you have to study. Whether it’s a unit looking at the Middle Ages, or contemporary Middle Eastern politics and languages, we’ve covered such a wide breadth of subject matter. We then learn what it means to put it all into practice.

As well as your degree at Trinity, you’re also very ambitiously studying Islamic studies at the University of Melbourne. How do the two courses compare?

The [Trinity College] Theological School has been really similar in terms of its academics when compared to the University of Melbourne. Similar to an Islamic studies degree at the University of Melbourne, you’ve got an objective academic approach to analysing a religion – its history, its philosophy, key figures in it, the way it works with politics; the same is true of the Bachelor of Theology. It’s far from fundamentalist ‘Bible-bashing’ – for want of a better term –, it’s very much objective academic study.

How would you describe the class environment at Trinity?

The class sizes are quite intimate, so you can workshop your ideas closely with other students and have a lot of one-on-one time with faculty. It’s great because you can develop really close relationships. Because of the way our timetabling works, we have quite a few breaks between classes, so you can go and have a casual coffee with your lecturer, or if you’re lucky and it’s an afternoon session, we might even go to the pub for a beer afterwards. You’ve got that friendly relationship where you can talk in a more casual setting with [the staff], so you get to know them as both a person and pastoral figure.

Also, one of the things that’s really struck me about the Theological School is that, while it’s certainly not compulsory, there’s an extremely active chapel life and students can take part in the twice-weekly Evensong with Trinity’s absolutely amazing, world-renowned college choir. There’s also morning prayer every morning at nine o’clock and Eucharists twice a week – a lot goes on in the chapel. So students who want to engage with that side of study have all that available to them.

What’s the student cohort like at Trinity?

When I started at Trinity, I was quite surprised – in a good way – that, yes, a lot of students are Anglican, but just as many are not. We’ve got people from a wide range of Christian traditions, but importantly, plenty of people who are not Christians, and plenty of people who are just interested in the academic discipline, which is fantastic.

We’ve then got some students who are of different faith traditions completely – there have been Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist students, as well as atheist and agnostic students, which has been awesome. I don’t think studying in a mono-cultural environment helps anyone.

There’s a wide range of ages as well. I’m 21 and started my theology degree when I was 18, then there are students who are in their late seventies. Some people have never studied before, while others have got five or six degrees and come in with many skills sets, so it’s a really diverse student body.

How have you found the shift to full online study as a result of COVID-19?

I must admit, I get a bit distracted at home! But because Trinity has had a big online learning community for a long time, I think it’s been easy for the faculty to transition to teaching everyone online, so it’s felt pretty smooth. Having shorter lectures recorded and uploaded and then joining people for Zoom classes, of course it’s different, but it’s been done really well.

Do you feel students are still engaged in the online environment?

Yes, absolutely. Enthusiasm in classes is certainly something that can never be faulted amongst the Trinity theological students – people are really enthusiastic and engaged. And actually, I think the Zoom sessions have made a big difference in that regard. It’s effectively much the same as a regular tutorial, except you’re not physically in the same room together.

What’s next for you?

Travel permitting, I’m heading off to America to do a Master of Theology at a university in Tennessee, studying at an Anglican seminary there. All going well, I’ll then be ordained as a priest in about two- or three-years’ time. My goal is to become a priest working in parish ministry or chaplaincy.

Would you recommend that others take up theological study?

Oh, absolutely. You gain such a breadth of skills, and as I said earlier, it’s not something reserved for those who are Christian and are already fully engaged with that kind of world. You don’t have to come in [with a strong religious background] at all. It’s just as much an academic discipline looking at history and culture and politics and sociology as it is a place for people who are Christian to be able to engage deeper with their faith and grow in information.

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