Half-yearly update: ADM Fellows share their progress
Four of ADM’s 2018 Fellows reflect on their progress over the past six months. Read what they’ve been doing, how ADM has supported them, and their plans for the next steps in their projects:
When in life do you get to focus solely on a project of your dreams, receive regular mentoring and opportunities for Christian growth, have sharp minds to bounce ideas off and a dedicated space and resources to make it happen? The last six months have been a unique opportunity for all of this and much more for me as an ADM fellow putting together a unique course for couples in the area of sex and fertility called ‘What to Expect when you’re Expecting’.
Amidst speaking to professionals, reading books and articles, attending relevant conferences, and listening to podcasts, I’ve had the opportunity to do some of my own formative thinking on how to bring academic research and information related to sex and fertility into a theological framework. It's also helped me recognize the need to break a rather large topic down into four distinct sections aimed at slightly different audiences: (1) Natural Fertility; (2) Facing subfertility; (3) Preparing for the unexpected; (4) Back in the SAK – Sex After Kids.
In thinking through some key topical issues I’ve had the opportunity to draft a number of articles that I hope to publish in the near future on topics such as ‘desire discrepancy’ which I hope will help others in understanding how science, psychology and theology intersect on these matters. I’ve also had the chance to present part of my presentation on natural fertility to general practitioners at a conference, which was an exciting opportunity to test out some of my material with a key audience. As my courses get closer to completion I’m looking forward to interacting with churches and other local organisations, many of whom have already shown great interest in the topics.
In meeting with other Christians working in fields related to sexuality, I’ve also realised there would be great benefit in bringing everyone together so as to support one another prayerfully and practically, as well as to learn from one another’s different areas of expertise. To this end, I will be hosting the first of these gatherings next month and am very excited to see how they might serve to support Christians working in the area of sex and relationships.
The opportunities afforded by my ADM Fellowship so far have been invaluable in assisting me to extend the pastoral theology I am working on and engage with ‘my public’ – people who are working and ministering in areas of pastoral care.
As a researcher in pastoral theology, I have had many fruitful conversations with people in chaplaincy, churched based pastoral ministry, pastoral care and spiritual care working with churches, in the Defense Forces, aged care and hospital and prison settings concerning the nature of their Christian ministry. A reoccurring theme through these conversations is a limited understanding of holistic pastoral theology, particularly the inter-disciplinary boundary between theology and anthropology and over-dependence on only one school of thought – biblical studies, integration psychology, chaplaincy methods, spirituality or clinical pastoral training.
Through my Fellowship project, I am excited about developing a holistic pastoral theology. The opportunity to work in a full-time capacity on my research has deepened my appreciation of theological concerns, as I attempt to cohesively stitch together disparate disciplines to better equip the people of God in soul care ministries. Through this concentrated research and writing process, I have been able to focus my area of inquiry on the early to Mid-C20th, looking at four European and British Pastoral practitioners.
I have had the opportunity to be exposed to ‘world’s best practice’, attending five conferences in the US and Australia covering Christian psychology, secular spirituality, ministry and theology. These include: Christian Association of Psychological Research, both international and Australian Spiritual Care Conferences, Oxygen Ministry Conference and Theology Connect conference.
I also plan to prepare one chapter of my thesis for submission to a peer-reviewed journal. In May I launched a website, Pastoral Thinking www.pastoralthinking.org to engage with people ministering in various soul care roles. The website has blog posts, links frameworks, resource book lists, and a reading room, with links to interesting websites and articles.
Sharing the Fellow's room with other researchers has been an enriching and dynamic process with the added advantage that many of this year’s Fellows are working in integrative fields between theology and the humanities. I have benefitted in numerous ways from the skills and expertise of the other Fellows through conversations, sharing of articles, books and relevant conferences. It’s hard to believe that nearly half of the Fellowship has passed! It has been a time of immersion and engagement across a diverse range of experiences and development opportunities.
My creative Fellowship is to compose a folio of music that will serve as a vigil to support emotional and spiritual needs of a person at the end of life and their family and friends, to help them experience a serene, dignified death.
It may be surprising that there is almost no purpose-specific music of a reflective, calming, contemplative nature appropriate for living well until the very end and dying well – i.e. tranquilly, in a state of peace, reconciliation, and acceptance, quietly, without pain or regret, and with adequate spaciousness for spiritual preparation of one’s own – whether that be the prayers of a believer or spiritual growth and focus for any person. We are, after all, Spiritual Beings. When impending death strips bare all redundant material security and everyday distractions, what at the core helps us find meaning in life, in life already lived, purpose, and legacy for those who survive longer than us? Who are our family and community in this situation? What gives us a sense of value and worth as human beings?
We might be surprised how ill-prepared we are, that is until we realise that we live in a society largely in denial about the reality of death, the normalcy and indeed the spiritual right for final personal growth through that experience, because we don’t talk about what it means to have a good death, or about what we find genuinely and deeply comforting and important. Many people have not witnessed the bodily process of departure: its noises, changes, breathing, potential agitation and anxiety. The music will be there to underpin the simple presence of the friend or family member, patiently being, perhaps holding a hand, beyond words and superfluity, at this defining time that will also shape the memories for friends for the rest of their lives. I have noticed how difficult this stillness and waiting can be for families in my work in palliative care.
Music can reduce pain, agitation, anxiety, and provide an atmosphere for deep calm and emotional expression, especially if words have gone due to dementia, frailty, medication or disease progression – restorative and peaceful for the embodied soul.
It is also impossible to think about humanity and frailty without also engaging fields of ageing, mental health, and general pastoral care. The Fellows collectively form a unique empathetic bond. We frequently engage in deep and theologically grounded conversations that traverse our pastoral interests, and in so doing, the experiences of others enrich our own and challenge assumptions in the healthiest way. The people at ADM are the jewel of the Fellowship, whom I couldn’t have anticipated beforehand: I feel certain that these people will be lifelong friends, connected spiritually and intellectually, and with whom networks are growing constantly. I’m deeply in awe of my fellow Fellows for the integrity and quality of their work, as well as encouragement and inspiration: it is a fantastic creative environment when traditionally composing is a hermetic, isolated activity.
The ADM Engage Evening Sessions are launch pads for hatching new ideas and building confidence to explore these hatchlings further afield. We have all submitted our work to conferences and publications. For me, the time at ADM has coincided with a keynote, several talks, working in dementia and palliative care community engagement intersecting with music and spirituality, and writing a few book chapters. The affirmation of interdisciplinary work as a vehicle for Kingdom expression has been tremendously encouraging for my theological studies, reinforcing the value of growing where you’re planted and harnessing the gifts you have, in the context of daily work, to further the Gospel and honour God no matter where that occurs.
YIXIN JIANG XU
I am writing this on the last day of my ADM Fellowship, with feelings of immense gratitude for my time here in the past five months. ADM has truly been a garden in providing me with the nourishment, inspiration, and encouragement for my project to grow.
In my first few months, I had the luxury of time to immerse myself in books about parenting, particularly from a Christian perspective. While I have engaged with psychology research on parenting and family relationships, this was a rare opportunity for me to pursue a deeper theological engagement with this topic area. I have read some fantastic books, including Harriet Connor’s Big Picture Parenting, Tim Chester and Ed Moll’s Gospel-Centered Families, and Ross Campell’s How to Really Love your Child. These, and other books, have helped me start to form a good Biblical framework for parenting – which is important for my project and future work with Chinese Australian parents.
In May and June, I ran a six-week Circle of Security parenting course (an evidenced-based course focused on parent-child attachment) at West Sydney Chinese Christian Church. Alongside this, I also attended a parenting course for Mandarin-speaking parents to gain insight into a Chinese parenting course.
Over the past months of the Fellowship, I have been able to refine my vision and project – how I can serve Chinese Australian parents over the long term, and what resources are needed. Achieving this greater clarity has been perhaps the most helpful aspect of my Fellowship.
While my work is far from complete, I have been able to finish a detailed book outline and draft the first chapter of my book on Christian parenting for the parent with a Chinese background. The Fellowship has allowed me to do this foundational work, and I hope to continue to work on my book and other parenting resources in the future. For now, I look forward to starting my own parenting journey in the next months!
Find out more about ADM Fellowships. Applications are open 1 July, 2018 – 20 August, 2018.