The Omnicompetent Theologian?

Scotts_2016 Posted by Keith and Lyn Scott on Fri, 14 Jul 2017 | 1 comments | Bookmark: digg this Post this to Post this to Facebook

In a Facebook post someone reflected that nothing taught at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute prepared a person for dealing with the complexities of renting out Glebe land. I feel the pain.

As a rector of several small parishes ‘blessed’ with older church buildings, nothing I had ever learnt in years of theological study was ever relevant to the complexities of leaky bell towers, lead flashing and gullies, or lime mortar for pointing. It all has to be learnt ‘on the job’ and has nothing at all to do with the theological higher mathematics of the Trinity.

One sunny day (well it’s dry season as I write so all the days are sunny), Francis, the Rector of the Seminary deftly pulled a couple of electrical cables through a piece of conduit and remarked “I have learnt a lot at Seminary”. He meant, of course, the self-defense survival skills necessary to keep a Seminary running on basically no budget.

Sometimes, bringing in plumbers or electricians is simply too expensive and everyone has to rapidly acquire a whole new series of skill sets. Francis made the remark as a group of us clambered about the complex of tanks, pumps and wiring that provide the Seminary with its water supply.

Water is gathered into a tank on the ground, pumped up to a tank on a tower 15 meters or so high, to provide sufficient pressure to run the showers in the student accommodation and in the staff houses. The pump is ultimately controlled by a couple of float switches, one in each tank. The switches were getting old and sticky and needed replaced, and a major project to rewire the whole system at the same time as replacing the switches was conceived and executed.

The project was a success, and as Francis and I sat on top of the ground tank making the final adjustments and checks, Francis took a photo of me wielding the inevitable screwdriver. Hopefully the struggle to wash the dishes will be made a little bit easier until a longer term solution to the Seminary’s chronic water shortage problem can be found.

Acquiring skills of modest electrical engineering are part and parcel of what Lyn and I have been doing over the last couple of weeks. As this is written, the first semester is over, the exam scripts safely sent off to South Africa and the students packed off home for a couple of weeks. It’s time to make do and mend. I’ve plumbed in a couple of bathroom mixer taps, installed a shower, two new electrical sockets and taken up carpentry to make a frame to hold a mosquito net over a recently acquired bed.

Lyn has also been brushing up her practical skills. She has been blessed with an old hand-operated sewing machine. The brand name and serial number stamped into the machine suggests was built by Singer in Newark, New Jersey in 1917. Over the years it has developed the character of a difficult old lady about the same age as the machine. It is cranky and temperamental, even, on occasion, downright uncooperative.

Considerable research on the Internet has turned up the manual for this elderly lady, and Lyn has learnt how to thread it (those using modern electrical devices simply have no idea) and even persuaded it to work, at least some of the time. With this device she has managed to make curtains for two windows and is busy creating linings for a pair we bought in a spendthrift moment from a real live shop in the mall. We are gradually making the house into a home again, although, as none of the walls are straight and no floor level, the house has moments of fighting back. Recently, several tiles fell off the bathroom wall, with very little by the way of provocation. I’m researching tiling on the Internet and contemplating the price of tile cutters.

Life in a small Seminary in Zambia may well require one to turn one’s hand to anything, even, if no other alternative presents itself, theology. There is, however, a serious problem with this. God does not leave the Church without the necessary gifts to carry out its mission. That includes the vital practical skills to make very concrete things work.

Some are given to be apostles, some teachers, some prophets but there are also some given to be electricians, plumbers, bankers, accountants and engineers. Every one of those last group of skills and more is just as important to a real live Church which seeks to bring the one in whom God is Incarnate to the world as prophets and teachers.

The omnicompetent priest or theologian, does not, and should not, exist. Each one of us has our own particular calling, each one of us God’s peculiar, particular and irreplaceable gift to the life of the Church. We need to respond to God’s call and add our own gifts and skills to the Church called, enabled and empowered into the Mission of God builds itself up into the full maturity of Christ.

Keith and Lyn Scott

More from Keith and Lyn Scott?


Roger Thompson said Fri, 14 Jul 2017 10:25AM
Bravo Keith & Lyn following in the footsteps of the Proverbs 31 linen-maker, Jesus the Carpenter, James & John the net-menders, Paul the tent-maker and Lydia the purple cloth dealer!

Add your own comment