EXCITEMENT is building for the final of the inaugural “Theology Slam” competition to be held at St John’s, Hoxton, on 7 March: three finalists — all women in their twenties — will deliver talks from memory that link theology and the contemporary world.
The competition, which was launched last September, is organised jointly by the Church Times, SCM Press, the Community of St Anselm, and the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC) (News, 28 September 2018, 11 January). It was endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The three finalists (profiled below) have been working with Samuel P. S. Williams, founder and lead storyteller at Hodos Consultancy Co, a “narrative consultancy” that advises senior business leaders, among others, on presentation skills and storytelling.
The three talks will be judged on the night by a panel that consists of the Third Church Estates Commissioner and theologian Dr Eve Poole; the winner of the 2016 Michael Ramsey Prize, Professor John Swinton; the director of the LICC, Mark Greene; and the Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Revd Dr Isabelle Hamley.
Dr Poole said last week: “Theology Slam is a great way to encourage promising theologians to hone their arguments and make complex topics accessible to a wider audience. I hope this will become an annual event, because it has the power both to develop theological talent and to improve our theological literacy.”
The Senior Commissioning Editor at SCM Press, David Shervington, said: “To my mind, public theology needs to connect with the concerns of our culture; but, equally, theologians also need to learn the skill of communicating their thinking, and it’s that dual task which this competition is all about. Our three finalists are top-quality emerging theologians, speaking about some really pressing issues. We’re in for a really special evening.”
Hannah Malcolm, 26, works as project co-ordinator at God and the Big Bang, an organisation that runs workshops for young people on science and religion.
She studied theology as an undergraduate at the University of Cambridge, followed by a Master’s degree in World Christianities at Yale Divinity School.
She found out about the competition on Twitter. “It was such an interesting idea to have spoken theology, and to challenge people to think about how communicating theology out loud has to be different from the way that you write it,” she says. “That really appealed to me.”
Ms Malcolm’s presentation will be on “Theology and the Environment”, although she says that she wants to avoid referring too much to “the environment”, which is “quite a clinical and alienating and scientific-sounding word. It doesn’t trigger any emotional response or sense of attachment.
“I’m going to be looking at the idea that watching the world around us go through climate breakdown, and watching other members of the community of creation suffer and die, produces in us a feeling of grief and sorrow. That is something worth exploring theologically.”
She has enjoyed honing both the content of her presentation and its delivery style with Mr Williams. “It’s been really interesting to have an outsider perspective on my topic. . . It is a new idea that theology is something you can have in a public and slightly less formal setting. I hope that will challenge people on the night — that doing theology doesn’t just mean doing it in a university setting.”
Hannah Barr, 27, is a first-year ordinand and Ph.D. student at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. Before training for ordination, she worked for an international children’s charity and was a non-resident member of the Community of St Anselm. She has an undergraduate theology degree from the University of Exeter, and an M.Phil. in theology from the University of Oxford.
She was encouraged by friends to enter the competition, she says, and chose “Theology and the #MeToo Movement”. “I’m really passionate about the #MeToo movement, and I really want the Church to take its response to the movement seriously, even though it’s going to be uncomfortable.”
It is a subject that she knows well. “I’ve been looking at the issue of sexual consent since my Master’s, and watching what has happened in our cultural and societal conscience with #MeToo. . . I’m keen that we keep #MeToo on the agenda.”
She senses among her generation “a real enthusiasm to have God made real to everyday life. My generation isn’t content with being told statements about God and the world and taking them at face value. Actually, it really wants to grapple with them. In sharing the message of Jesus with our friends around us, really grounding it in the questions that people have today — that’s a real priority for this generation.”
Sara PratsSara Prats
Sara Prats, 23, from Spain, is studying for a Bachelor degree in divinity at the University of London, part-time, and for a Master’s at the University of Birmingham. Her talk will be on “Theology and Mental Health”.
She found out about the competition from her BA director of studies. She was very excited to be chosen as a finalist. “I have never spoken about theology in front of an audience; so that makes me feel very nervous.”
She says that the support of Mr Williams has made her feel “much more calm and confident with what I am going to do”, however.
Her talk will examine “‘How the rise in mental-health issues among millennials is related, somehow, with the loss of the reference of our identity in God’ — by that I mean the way God looks at us, and the context in which God created us.”
She is familiar with the territory, having studied psychology. “Theology Slam has given to me an opportunity to show a new perspective, from theology, about the mental-health issues that adolescents are facing nowadays.”
The talks will be filmed and made available on YouTube and social media. There will be a live video feed of the event on the Church Times’s Facebook page
The winner will receive a trophy, a collection of books worth up to £200, and her 500-word entry will be published in the Church Times.
For more information and to buy tickets to the final, visit www.churchtimes.co.uk/theology-slam.