Broaden your horizons: Bible college training for older generations
Bible college courses are a great option for older Christians wanting to deepen their knowledge of their faith or explore new avenues of service, says JOANNE APPLETON ...
Bible college courses are a great option for older Christians wanting to deepen their knowledge of their faith or explore new avenues of service, says JOANNE APPLETON
Two years ago, policeman Giles Sutton from Chipping Sodbury was – in his own words – “three years away from putting my feet up and doing nothing with the rest of my life”. But God had other plans!
Now he’s a part-time student at Redcliffe College, studying for a Certificate in Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts.
“The adventure began with my wife Pennie and me (pictured right) going on a mission trip to Burkina Faso,” explains Giles. “When we came back we began to wonder whether God had something more for us to do, and that it would be a ‘now thing’ rather than waiting until retirement.”
A friend suggested doing some studying first and recommended Redcliffe. The college took Giles’ experience in the police into account and accepted him, despite his lack of formal education. Pennie also attends lectures as a day student.
They are both also looking forward to his summer placement in Nepal, working alongside a Nepalese student he met at Redcliffe.
“We don’t feel old here as it is such a varied community of all ages and backgrounds,” says Giles. “Studying has massively increased our experience of theology and enabled us to go deeper into things we’d never thought of before, such as spiritual formation or understanding evangelism and discipleship.
“You think you are coming to get answers, but you go away with more questions and motivated to delve deeper – you just soak it up. But the biggest challenge was that I’d never written an essay in my life. I’ve learnt to ask for help when I’ve felt out of my depth.”
Giles is not alone in returning to study. While there are reports of lower numbers of mature students starting higher education courses, fees at Bible and theological colleges are often significantly less than universities. This makes them an attractive option to older Christians wanting to deepen their knowledge of their faith or explore new avenues of service, such as cross-cultural mission or counselling.
Mary Jarratt (left) took early retirement from teaching in her late 50s and felt the need to deepen her spiritual life. She visited Redcliffe, and decided to do the MA in European Mission and Intercultural Christianity part-time over four years.
Even though she had a first degree from Oxford, Mary found returning to study a challenge, particularly juggling home and church life with academic life. Even so, studying in a multicultural environment “is very stimulating and I’ve appreciated that aspect greatly” she says. “I have found great joy in talking with fellow students and tutors when I have been in college – and having my horizons and understanding of the issues, in Europe particularly, broadened.
“I hope that what I have learned I can pass on in my church and in a wider context with other groups and then see what God may call us to do – and where – in the future.”
So what would Giles, Pennie and Mary advise to mature students wanting to go to Bible college?
“Don’t fear it, but it will help if you have a basic understanding of how computers work before you
go. But don’t think it is not for you – often it is your life’s experience that helps put things into context,” says Giles.
Mary adds that you need to “be prepared for a lot of adjustment to new ways of doing academic work. Be determined to keep at it whatever distractions occur. And most of all, be sure that God is your Rock and will help and strengthen you when you are tempted to find it all too much.”