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Sheila Pritchard

1970-1972 / Diploma in Theology, Diploma in Religious Education

1980-2001 / BCNZ Lecturer

(Henderson Campus)

My memories of BTI/BCNZ/Laidlaw span the years from the 1950’s to 2000. My father (Rev John Pritchard) lectured part time at BTI when it was next door to the Baptist Tabernacle where he was the minister. My brother Peter was a student at BTI in the 1960’s and I remember being fascinated by his stories of compulsory early morning exercises out in the courtyard before breakfast!

By the time I was a student in the 1970’s the college had moved to Henderson. I remember coming over when the Henderson campus was beginning to be built. I saw the outline of a single room and thought how tiny it looked! By 1970 I was installed in one of those rooms. I felt quite at home at BCNZ from day one and I loved having so much time to devote to study. Lectures were in the morning and I recall that we were supposed to be quietly in our rooms studying from 2pm. (Did we even have a specified time for an afternoon tea break – or am I imagining that?)

Other memories from those three years (1970-1972) include:

  • The significance of Prayer Cells – some relationships formed there are maintained to this day.

  • Hearing the intercom announce: “Man on the ladies side” so that we could make sure we were quite respectable if a man should appear in our corridor!

  • Going into a certain lecturer’s office holding a large stack of books that were on the bibliography for an assignment and asking how we were supposed to read them all!

  • Knowing that Miss Jaggers (the Matron) invited a few of us to morning tea each Saturday. The ladies’ head prefect was deputed to round up the requred number. It was always a lovely morning tea with delicate china and Miss J’s genuine interest in how we were getting on. (But we did hope we wouldn’t be called on when we’d just washed our hair or had other plans for the morning!)

  • Serviettes and butter knives! Yes – and an ettiquette session as part of orientation. We sat at assigned tables (changed each week) with our own cloth serviette in a serviette ring. (I grew up with serviettes and butter knives so that was fine with me!)

  • A definite dress code. Early on no ‘trousers’ for ‘ladies’ and later when pant suits were in fashion they were allowed but only if the top came well down over the bottom!

  • Men and ladies sat on different sides of the lecture room.

  • We had to sign out if we were going out in the evening. 10pm was the time the outside doors were locked. If someone who had signed out was late the prefect on duty had to wait for them!

  • A highlight of my third year was welcoming the new Dean of Women, Helena Stretton. The titles of ‘matron’ and ‘prefect’ were now updated to Dean of Women and Student Leaders.

I know some of this sounds either hilarious or draconian but at that time it seemed perfectly reasonable and appropriate - to me anyway!

Of course the main focus of these years was study. I left BCNZ at the end of 1972 with a Dip Theol and a DipRE grateful for all the experiences, learning and friendships formed.

From 1973-1979 I served with SIM in Nigeria. I was a teacher at Hillcrest School in Jos. These were wonderful years. Hillcrest was, and still is, a school that caters for children from many mission organisations as well as children from any Nigerian and ex-pat families who want their children to have an American education. The international student body and the inter-mission staff were a wonderful environment for broadening my horizons culturally and theologically.

In those days being a career missionary meant that you would probably stay "on the field" until you retired. But during these years I began to feel that that wouldn't be my story. It was as if my roots were being loosened but I had no idea what might come next. I know I sometimes thought "I'd love to teach adults". Then totally out of the blue I received a letter from David Stewart - Principal of BCNZ. He prayed for all "his graduates” and said he was aware that when I did my training there had been no theological degree available. So he was writing to ask me to prayerfully consider returning to BCNZ to do my BTh and MTh studies. Would I consider teaching in the Diploma classes and thus paying no fees? Writing this now it does seem amazing that this invitation came exactly when I was feeling "my roots being loosened". It was in some ways not an easy decision. It felt a bit like deserting the role I had been committed to. But in the end it really was very clear that God was in this. So in 1979 I bid farewell to Hillcrest and the many friends in Nigeria and headed back to NZ. I had no savings or household equipment. When I travelled to Nigeria my basic supplies were shipped from NZ in two or three 44 gallon drums. Furniture and other essentials were accumulated from missionaries going on furlough or retiring. I seem to remember I came back with just two suitcases.

At first I was accommodated in a room in the single women's quarters at BCNZ. That was good given that I had no furniture or household items. I felt homesick for Nigeria and my own flat and my friends. But to some extent BCNZ was a familiar place and I did have some support networks in Auckland. In 1979 and 1980 I completed my BTh studies and in 1981 and 1982 I went on complete an MTh. I sometimes look back on those four years and wonder how I coped with full time study and a reasonable teaching role at the same time.

It was often strange to be sitting in a lecture as a student and then getting up to be the lecturer of the next class. I was never quite sure if I was thought of as student or staff. I do remember students often seeking me out as "not quite staff" to listen, empathise and pray. The benefit of being accommodated with them and having had missionary experience was a plus.

At the end of 1982 I was offered a full-time lecturing role at Bible College to teach Pastoral Care - along with other classes I had already been teaching at diploma level - Doctrine, New Testament, Communications, Christian Education. I was also a fieldwork supervisor, faculty advisor and counsellor! It's no wonder I wrote in my journal: "Contemplative prayer and creative spirituality are what I keep longing for but I feel everyone wants a piece of me."

By 1986 I was living in “staff flats” (“Petticoat Lane” as it was known at the time!). My dis-ease about an over-busy workload and an academic style of teaching continued to rumble beneath the surface. By the end of 1987 I had been teaching at BCNZ for 9 years (four of which had been combined with my BTh and MTh studies) so some study leave was due!

I decided to use 1988 to explore and deepen my sense of call to a more contemplative way of living and learning. I began by living for a few months with The Community of the Transfiguration, a Baptist Monastic community in Geelong out of Melbourne. Moving on to the UK I spent some time on the island of Iona with its Celtic heritage and the still thriving Abbey and McLeod Centre. I also made a trip to Norwich and stood in Julian of Norwich’s cell trying to imagine her offering spiritual care to those who came to the window. Finally, I had been accepted for a three month course of training in Spiritual Direction at St Beuno’s – a Jesuit Spirituality Centre in North Wales. This included a 30-day Ignatian retreat meditating on the gospel account of the life of Jesus. This proved to be the highlight and turning point of the year. Ignatius of Loyola (16th Century) had developed helpful tools for discernment which are embedded in the retreat. This helped me discern that it was appropriate to return to my role at BCNZ in spite of my earlier misgivings.

Soon after my return I was invited by the new Principal, Dr John Hitchen, to consider setting up a department in Spiritual Formation! This was a complete surprise and a wonderful opportunity. I felt totally inadequate but as John Hitchen said, "You are more equipped to do this than anyone else!" So I began with a small initial class called Personal Spirituality. The following year I added a second course Spirituality for Ministry and in the third year Contemporary Trends in Spirituality.

The Personal Spirituality course quickly became very popular and class sizes were soon up to 50 students which I felt was really too big for the kind of teaching I most wanted to do. But it was encouraging all the same! I introduced a silent retreat for the third years. This was a five day retreat with daily spiritual direction, held at Mercy Spiritual Life Centre. Over the years David Crawley and Margaret Marshall helped me run these retreats and offer spiritual direction.

I also began running weekend Creative Prayer Retreats at Arjay House in Torbay. These were open to any students. After a few years I encouraged third year students to experience running these retreats themselves with my guidance. They did a wonderful job and I learned a lot from them!

I was gradually able to shift my teaching load more specifically into the Spiritual Formation department as those classes developed. I was also offering spiritual direction to some students and others outside of my college time.

In 1994, I reduced my BCNZ work to four days a week in order to give more time to my growing spiritual direction practice. This was a significant step towards claiming my contemplative lifestyle

The spiritual formation department was growing and at some point my friend and colleague David Crawley began to share the teaching of these classes. In 1995, I collapsed at college with a cerebral aneurysm. Wonderfully, the aneurysm was able to be surgically repaired so after three weeks in hospital I returned home.

With rather amazing timing I was due for three months study leave over the next academic term so I could recover at home with no disruption to my BCNZ classes as that had already been arranged. During those three months I wrote two TEE (Theological Education by Extension) courses on spiritual formation.

In 1997, I began working only 50% at BCNZ to allow my spiritual direction and retreat work to grow. Most people (understandably) thought this was because of my aneurysm but actually it was a decision based on my gradual transition away from working full-time at the college to see if I could sustain self-employment.

At the end of 1999 I finally left my faculty role at BCNZ. One farewell from students and another from faculty and staff marked the completion of 20 very significant years for me - and for the college. I left the Spiritual Formation department in the capable hands of David Crawley!

In the 22 years since then I have been privileged to continue offering spiritual direction and supervision in a private practice capacity. This began as a full-time ministry working from a dedicated room at home. Gradually I have reduced the days I’m available as I moved into semi-retirement. Currently living in Evelyn Page Retirement Village I am grateful to continue this ministry from a rented office near Orewa Beach.

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