ACR chats to Rowena Russell: ministry wife, mum- to-teenagers and Deaf Society support worker and adult educator about taking on theological study at a different stage of life.
1. We often picture the average theological college student as being mid 20s, perhaps single or with a young family. You have a bit of a different story to that. How, when and why did you head to college?
I started studying at Moore Theological College seven years ago (2013) to support our church ministry trainee Darren. Darren has full hearing but is unable to speak and uses sign language to communicate. Both Darren and his wife Jess had taught me to sign as part of a deaf ministry at our church. I enrolled to do a couple of subjects with Darren to get him started. I would voice interpret his questions and comments in tutorials and conversations over morning tea and lunch. There is a lot of “turn to the person next to you and discuss…” and so we would do those together in Auslan. I guess in some ways Darren fitted the picture of the typical student whereas I didn’t!
3. What were some of the highlights and challenges of your studies?
Living in Northmead and going to Moore meant that there were about three hours of travel a day. We have four teenage children, two of whom did their HSCs while I was at college. I often felt out of my depth studying full-time, working, supporting my husband’s ministry in a busy parish, managing a family and working. After doing the diploma part time, to finish the degree I moved to full time study for two years. I kept working part time until my final term when I put it off to focus on exams.
I loved my lectures, I loved what we were being taught, I loved learning from my class mates. But it’s worth saying, college is not like you are in one big bible study group. You are writing academic essays with 30 books in the bibliography and footnotes and learning another language and doing online quizzes. It is preparing people for a lifetime of ministry in all sorts of contexts, so it is rigorous and it is hard!
I learnt more and grew more than I could have ever imagined. It was worth it but, if I’m honest, juggling it with the rest of life was also harder than I expected. I’m so thankful to God for how the other students were so welcoming of me – an outlier and a late comer. We really encouraged and helped each other so much along the way. I’m also so thankful for how my husband and kids cheered me on and (sometimes) pushed me out the door.
Moore College Mission was definitely another highlight. This is when the whole college splits into teams and heads out on mission alongside churches throughout Sydney and further afield. It was not just as an opportunity to put into practice all that we had been learning, but an opportunity to grow in our relationships as a team and to learn from others and how they do ministry.
4. What are your plans post-college? How do you think your time at Moore will shape your life and ministry going forward?
I am really looking forward to seeing what lies ahead. Two of our children have now finished school, with another one graduating this year. I have learnt so much over my years of study. I hope that I can be better equipped to do what God has put before me. I’ll continue giving talks, leading bible study, training other women, reading the bible, praying and sharing the gospel, all stepping out in God’s strength. I am looking forward to being able to spend more time on all of those, and seeing what changes and challenges lie before me.
6. Perhaps our readers are keen to do some deeper theological study but are worried they’ve ‘missed the boat’. Any advice?
It’s never too late! In many ways, I feel like now is a great time to study and continue a life of ministry since our children are almost all adults. It’s worth thinking about how you can manage the college timetable, travel and the sheer effort of studying. The diploma is fantastic, and you can just pick one subject and see how you go. Look at the timetable and pick your favourite subject or the one that you think you could learn the most in. But be warned, learning about God may give you a growing desire to know more and that’s when it’s hard to stop!