Of the numerous reasons why someone might decide to embark on postgraduate study – planning a career change, entering a profession that requires it, new contacts, promotion at work, flexibility of study, pay rise, being passionate about a particular subject, making your CV stand out from the crowd – personally, I was just missing learning and thought it couldn’t do any harm! Fortunate that the school where I worked at the time agreed to pay the course fees, and finding the excellent CYM (validated by University of Gloucester) model of two study blocks a year, made it possible to begin with minimum disruption to my job.
Not long into the first study block I realised how much I love hearing and discussing ideas, especially with others from such diverse experiences and Christian traditions. For me, the MA led to being offered a part-time post with Oxford CYM as a tutor across all of the courses we offer, which eventually led to a part-time post as Senior Youth Worker with Oxford Youth Works. This means I get to talk about big ideas and debate new theoretical perspectives every week, while remaining fully grounded through my work alongside young people!
However, the reality of juggling the demands of post-graduate study, within an already busy life, was far from easy. While learning two new jobs and overseeing the children & youth work at our church, along with leading a weekly youth group and trying hard to keep our own three children from feeling less important than every other competing demand, I had to learn self-discipline and make tough choices along the way. In my final year, with just the dissertation to write, I found it particularly hard to find the motivation to begin the research. My plan to conduct an ethnographic study of a team of Street Pastors, exploring their theological and theoretical motivations seemed a great idea when I wrote my 3,000 word rational for it. However the reality of the prospect of being out on the streets from 10:00pm Saturday night until at least 4:00am on a Sunday morning suddenly felt quite daunting.
Looking back though, I would not have missed the privilege of walking alongside the Street Pastors for anything. I vividly remember watching 82 year-old Mick straightening his Street Pastor cap, clicking his hearing aids on and filling his pockets with lolly-pops. I had not expected to see this small, disarming and humble man of God make such an impact on the streets. Young people went out of their way to shake his hand and talk with him. He both inspired and challenged me in equal measure. Of the many meanings found in Jesus’ promise of life in abundance (John 10:10) part of its current outworking in my life today is in beginning to see the world afresh and recognise the daily choice I have to work for freedom and change in the people and places I encounter. Studying for an MA has kick-started a process in me that reawakened a passion for life and created new worlds of possibility.
Have you ever considered post-graduate study? Be careful, it might just change your life…