Theological Insight through Experience
Henk de Roest is describing an encounter on his regular practice and extracting a theological reflection on the conversations with the homeless. The outcome of the conversations provides a theological input taken during the dialogue. After the conversation, the pastor reflects on essential points that touched him and formulated a theological concept out of the conversation. The day to day encounters provides a basis for formulating theological input (de Roest, 2012: 169).
The theory is the foundational knowledge before the exposure to the field, in this case, at the homeless shelter. The pastor equips himself by learning concepts and procedures in interpersonal encounters that is according to the standard therapeutic practice, particularly in these types of settings. The pastor must be open to the encounters considering limitations of his practice especially in dealing with various demands of the homeless, be it a material necessity, psychological support, or practice of faith (de Roest, 2012: 171). Through the learned theory, the pastor is ready to test or implement the theory in real situations. The pastor carefully considers the time, place and situation for the facilitation of every encounter. In practice, the pastor adapts to the scope and flexibility of the theory, and limitations of the concept in every individual encounter (Cameron, 2010: 23). Every homeless individual has her own story to tell, and so the pastor must be attentive and treat each individual as unique and special in her way (de Roest, 171). Theory serves as a guide to any practice, but it does not control the flow of every conversation. Theory can serve as a basis for reflection and evaluation of every individualised encounter (Cameron, 24).
The pastor must always consider that every encounter with each homeless is a learning opportunity that will help and guide him in his future encounters and as well provide an occasion for the homeless to build trust and faith. Through full trust, both the pastor and the homeless slowly discover areas in life that need healing and other areas of life that are flourishing. The practise becomes a source of mutual building-up of character and self-esteem. Also, any personal motive brought in every encounter must not control the encounter but to allow oneself to enter into the dialogue. The pastor reflects the feelings developed during the conversations and draws a theological learning outcome in every unique experience (de Roest, 174).
Initial encounters are quite challenging as trust in each party needs establishing. The pastor must be vigilant to any violent attack, be it verbal or physical, from each homeless. Patience, composure, and perseverance are essential characteristics that will help establish the rapport and slowly enhance the trust necessary in the continuation of the forthcoming encounters.
This type of theological action extracted from experience can be useful in various fields of pastoral work. Experiences of ordinary conversations and sharing bring fruitful insights through reflection and evaluation. One of the many theological concepts based on experience or user experience as the source of a theological insight is Green’s Spiral Method of theological reflection. The spiral method starts with experience, then exploration, followed by reflection, and then action (Green, 2009: 17-19). At Casa Velha, before the group comes together, the facilitators undergo brainstorming on the concept or theme for the gathering. Aware of the structure of the meetings using Green’s method, the group gathers together sharing the experience of living out the theological insight learned in the previous meeting. After listening to the sharing of each member, the group explores and reflects on unique experiences, and then draw a theological insight. Before the final day of returning to their respective towns, jobs or schools, the facilitator introduces a new theme for reflection for them to take away and live out. The group members experience growth in faith by understanding theological insights applied in their daily life.
De Roest, H. (2012) God at Street Level: Digging up the Theological Identity of Pastoral Care among the Homeless and Drug Addicts in Explorations of Ecclesiology and Ethnography edited by Christian B. Scharen. Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Cameron, H.et al., (2010) Talking about God in Practice: Theological Action Research and Practical Theology.London: SCM Press.
Green, L. (2009) Let’s do Theology: Resources for Contextual Theology. London: Continuum International Publishing Group.