The 60th academic year of IBTS is commencing! Master and doctoral level students have already been with us for a week for their Critical Thinking, Academic Research and Writing course. By now most of them look sufficiently confused – and taking great comfort from the words of assurance of students who have gone through this course before that it is possible to emerge on the other side alive and maybe still thinking. Critical Thinking consists of lectures on critical reading skills, construction of the argument, IBTS writing standards, and some notes and exercises in academic English (as many of our students are non-native English speakers). The module was completed on Friday with presentations on the four areas we work at here in IBTS – Biblical Studies, Baptist and Anabaptist Studies, Applied Theology and Contextual Missiology.
Saturday, with no classes, presented an opportunity to breathe, so some took the opportunity to go to the city or read. But the library (so no rest for our Head Librarian Katharina!) was filled with blissful silence interrupted only by the turning of the pages. Most of our Certificate in Applied Theology (CAT) students have also arrived by then. So on Saturday night, our Chaplain, Greg, and CAT Course Leaders Alex and Phil, organised a game evening to help us to get to know each other and to continue training in understanding each other’s accent – though some still claim they cannot understand a word of what the Rector is saying (he has a resplendent Yorkshire brogue)! As we go through this the beginning of each academic year, we already know that come May, these same folk with panicked eyes and paralysed tongues will be chatting away so that sometimes they’ll be impossible to stop. But now, words often come with difficulty. And even when we think we understand the words, it does not yet mean that the connotations we attach to them are the same as for others, or that actions will mean the same things as for us. There will be many things to learn from each other in the coming days.
On Sunday, the last day of August, we gathered for worship at Sarka Valley Community Church. “Is it already finished?” somebody asked with a surprise when the service ended after one hour 15 minutes. In some other parts of our churches throughout the European Baptist Federation, this would have barely been the first half of the time! Many of the full-time students will probably join the church and get involved in its various activities and, as older students say, quickly feel as at home, but at the moment this is a window into various ways Baptist people worship which can seem quite unusual.
Afterwards the new students (and a surprising number of the old ones) went for the Prague tour with Parush, the Academic Dean, and Lina, Course Leader in Applied Theology. Prague, of course, has history on each cobblestone, so it’s difficult to move fast through the Castle area, the Lesser town or the Charles’ bridge, the Bethlehem Chapel where Jan Hus preached, the Old Town and the Astronomical Clock, the Jewish quarter and its Old-New Synagogue… We ended up quite exhausted but having learned not only about Prague and its history and art, but also having heard some stories of each other – a good start for friendships to be built along the way in our IBTS community.
One question often asked is “does this community have boundaries?” Well, yes and no. We talk about being a porous community, but there needs to be some common guidelines amongst us, so on Sunday evening Keith, our Rector, tried to set these out to us – ask questions first, then shoot people down in flames! Have respect for the other. One Baptist’s unpardonable lifestyle sin often turns out to be elsewhere in the world the very thing that marks out a Baptist. So, take care. Have respect. Listen to the other.