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‘Who do you think you are?’ 


Reflections on identity, and life as a Baptist minister in training. By Molly Boot


‘Who do you think you are?’


It’s a difficult question to answer, and one I ask myself, and that is asked of me, daily: I’m sure that I’m not alone in finding it pretty difficult to answer. We’re in the business of pinning our identities to our jobs, families, achievements and the perception of others. I know I often end up replacing ‘who do you think you are’ with ‘who do you want me to be?’

When I started training to be a Baptist minister, I was exhausted by trying to present myself as the person I thought people expected, or even needed, me to be. To my fellow ministers in training, I was sure I needed to appear just as much of a minister as they all seemed to be, already, somehow: just as mature, competent, un-phased, busy…

I wanted more than anything for them to forget that I’d only just turned 19, that I hadn’t been a Christian for very long, or that, unlike many of them, I had no family of my own or former career. So, I tried desperately not to show that I was vulnerable; that I was overwhelmed by living apart from my parents for the first time, settling into a new city, beginning a placement in a new church, and starting my first degree.

It’s not that I had more to deal with than they did – far from it. Whether it was making sure they spent enough time with their spouses and children, or working out how on earth to fit college work in between two services, a home communion, a toddler group, a deacons’ meeting, and a flurry of unexpected and complicated pastoral issues… their stresses all seemed to be far more legitimate than mine, and it looked as though they were all going through it together.

I worried that my life didn’t look anything like theirs; I had no one sharing the experience of trying to work out what it means to be a minister in training and a sort-of-undergraduate, navigating all the excitement and exhaustion of student life, while also trying to work out what it means to be called by God to pastoral ministry. I nearly did a ‘normal’ degree, before my long-held plans to study music after leaving school were scuppered by this sense of calling that just wouldn’t budge. Now, when other undergrads ask what it is I do, it’s usually the beginning of a long conversation about what ‘Baptist’ means (not Westboro), or why I’m not doing another (normal) degree or job first like most people do.

Most of my university friends are incredibly supportive and interested in what I’m doing: quite a few of them have come to hear me preach, in college or at church. Others are somewhat bemused – and a few probably think I’m a bit mad.  

But I love what I do: I love it that in a normal week I might conquer another chapter of Romans in my Greek classes, preach a sermon, write an essay, conduct my college choir, teach a violin lesson, rehearse for a few hours with a university orchestra, and have a tutorial on a Spanish Mystic. In that same week, I may spend my evenings at a lecture, a college formal dinner, a play that my friends are putting on, a ‘bop’ (a themed college party) or even a deacons’ meeting.

It’s all a massive privilege, if a fairly eclectic mix, and sometimes I do feel like I’m living a double life: minister in training on the one hand, and Oxford undergrad on the other. In my struggles to pin down my identity, I’m drawn to the idea of finding my identity in Christ – even if a wonderful, ‘Christianese’-hating friend of mine would protest, ‘but who on earth knows what that means?!’

I hope it means that we are, as those whom Jesus loves, set free from having to find easy answers to the question ‘who do you think you are?’ – that I can stop trying to define myself as ‘sort-of-undergrad’, ‘nearly-minister’, or ‘wannabe-theologian’. I may well be all of those things, and many other things besides.

But most importantly, and infinitely more definitely, I’m loved by God. This is where our identities as Christians should lie, above all else.  


Image | Ty Carlson | Creationswap

Molly Boot is an undergraduate and minister in training at Regent’s Park College, Oxford, and is on placement at New Road Baptist Church, Oxford 


Baptist Times, 03/01/2018
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