Where are they now: Sonya Lewthwaite

Sonya Lewthwaite and husband Jon Screech plant out the banks of a stream in Waiwhetu, Lower Hutt,...
Sonya Lewthwaite and husband Jon Screech plant out the banks of a stream in Waiwhetu, Lower Hutt, with their church group. Photo: supplied.
Sonya Lewthwaite, formerly of Waitaki Girls’ High School, has completed nine years of theological education, mostly from the University of Otago, and is exploring ordination as a priest in the Anglican Church. She is undergoing an official process with the diocese in Wellington called a "discernment period", which will take at least a year.

The reaction of my friends to my exploring ministry has been probably not one of surprise. I’ve been studying theology for almost a decade and that’s a pretty eccentric pursuit in many people’s estimation. Having said that, a surprising number of our friends are already ministers and doing quite amazing work in their communities, so there have been people to encourage me and to be realistic with me about the challenges of that line of work.

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My nine years of theological education taught me that there is a mighty amount that I don’t know. Theology as a discipline in the university and (much like other disciplines) just gives you the tools to work through certain kinds of questions about the world. But theologians approach their work with an ear to how questions of ultimate meaning have been asked and answered by people in the past, so there is a big sea of tradition to try to understand. And one of the fundamental thoughts that theology starts with is the idea that God is beyond our understanding, so there is kind of a self-criticism involved too. The concepts and the language we use to talk about God will always have their limitations.

The discernment process I am going through is quite similar to the process of deciding to get married (I’ve been working through these decisions at the same time, so I’ve thought a lot about the comparison). Being "called" to something is not often a clear-cut experience: for me it’s a slow working through about who I am, what I care about, about the Church and what it is and can be ...

The biggest challenges facing churches today are largely the same challenges that are facing everyone else ...  I think churches could contribute a lot to the renewal of communities though, and to the renewal of the environment. There is a lot going on in the Anglican diocese in Wellington, for example, around establishing community gardens and food co-ops: hubs around which people can get together and care for their local environments and for each other. And the Church’s response to the refugee crisis in the last year has also made me really proud. Those kinds of initiatives will, I imagine, become more and more critical for our country, and I’m excited to be involved.

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