Talking my pioneering language, thinking outside the box and treading those untrodden paths… Helen Harwood interviews final year diploma student, Jane Gray.
HH: Jane, you told me: “I am a mature student. Since leaving school I had done no study other than reader training.” So what was it that led you to study with us here at CMS? And tell me about the route you came through, using Accredited Prior Learning (APL) to enter in the second year?
JG: I was given two alternatives by my DDO. I was interviewed and accepted at the first place and really only came to CMS as a second option, but the second I walked in, it just felt like ‘home’. Once I had been interviewed by Jonny Baker I just knew that I had to come here, CMS were just talking my pioneering language. It was a great relief after so many years of feeling that I saw things differently to suddenly appreciate that there were others that understood mission as I did. I didn’t understand anything about APL and how that impacted on this training but Jonny and the others explained it very clearly. Essentially it meant that because I had studied before there was credit for that prior learning so in order to gain the relevant qualification I could join an existing group at year two. Jonny took great care to work out which learning I had already done to maximise the benefit I got from this course and there has been no duplication in my study.
I know you were nervous about whether or not you would fit in here, what were your experiences like when you first arrived?
Because of APL I joined an existing group at year two and under normal circumstances that would have left me feeling a bit of an outsider but the group were really great and they made me feel incredibly welcome from day one. As the course has progressed relationships have deepened and strengthened and I really value the community we have made; I shall stay in contact with my fellow students long after the study is finished. A big part of the benefit of studying here goes far beyond the actual teaching, it is the connection to the community at CMS, the support and affirmation that it brings.
You have told me you have been involved in many leadership roles in your church but “…somehow always felt a bit of a ‘lightweight’ when compared to some of the other leaders; in reality I think this was only my perception and not that of others…” Can you tell us how you finally accepted your worth as a leader and what helped you reach that point?
I think it has happened gradually; there wasn’t any ‘lightbulb’ moment, just a growing confidence as the course progressed. During class discussions and also through written work the course tutors affirmed my work, showed me how to improve in certain areas and generally made me realise my own value, before them and more importantly before God. Somehow it enabled me to see myself through new eyes.
I know you have loved the teaching here and described us a “wonderfully open environment”. Thank you. Can you say more about the ‘mindset’ you have experienced, please?
It’s just amazing. All the teachers have hands on experience of doing something pioneering themselves and they each have an amazing story to tell. They have been there and got the tee-shirt! There is a real ‘can do’ mindset. Possibly a good way to describe it is ‘thinking outside the box’ – it’s impossible to think outside the box effectively if you don’t really appreciate what the ‘box’ is, how it got there and why. We are taught to understand, to evaluate and question, to look at things from every angle and then form our own thinking. The great thing is that it also feels entirely safe – there is no pressure to feel a certain way. It might be that, in a particular situation, you come to the conclusion that in this instance ‘the box’ is the place you need to be; that is absolutely fine, there is certainly no pressure to elicit change just for the sake of novelty. The teaching is grounded, safe, exciting and innovative.
You have told me: “I honestly feel being part of CMS is one of the best things I have ever done during my walk of faith; it has taken me to new heights, given me new insights, strengthened my faith, opened my eyes and my mind, equipped me for service and given me hope; that there are people like me who long to engage in mission that does not consist of having a whist drive or afternoon tea in church!” That is a wonderful thing to hear. Can you give us more details on exactly how you have experienced this?
In a number of ways. There is a strong faith element to every day’s teaching, starting with worship led by one of the cohort; as pioneers you would expect innovative worship and they do not disappoint! This has enabled me to be more creative and confident in my own context. I have gained a wonderful sense of the ‘eternal timeline’ of what we are doing on this earth; looking back over history and the pioneers of old who have existed throughout history I feel part of God’s amazing plan for his earth in a way I never did before by knowing who and what has gone before. The hope I speak of comes from learning and appreciating that God is, and always has, worked out his will through people in different ways in different times; previously my perception of mission came from my own experience of church in my context which frequently left me feeling isolated and ineffectual. As a result of my learning at CMS I now see myself as part of God’s great tapestry, small and insignificant on my own and yet, when woven into the much greater tapestry as beautiful and essential to the symmetry of the finished article; without me, however small, there would be a hole and the pattern would be spoilt.
Lastly, Jane, how can we pray for you?
I am treading very new ground in my diocese in that they do not really ‘get’ pioneers and as such, there is no real pathway for them to flourish and grow. I am being given a role which will enable others to follow. Please pray that I may have the wisdom to establish that role effectively, that it is right for me and for those that follow me. That I may have the courage to tread those untrodden paths, that I may not be discouraged when I meet constant opposition, that my experience benefits those people of peace and of no faith that I meet in my ministry and those people of faith that I encourage as I do so.
Pray: please pray for Jane in her study and in her pioneering work. That she may continue to be inspired and to be an inspiration.