Sharon Prentis has been part of the staff team at St Mellitus College since September 2015. Below, she answers a few questions.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I originally come from the city of Leeds and consider myself as a Yorkshire lass, having been born not far from the hallowed turf of Headingly Cricket ground.
Most of my life has been involved with church in one form or another. I am married to Calvert, who has been a priest in the Church of England for over 20 years. We have a daughter who has just graduated from university. As a family, we have moved several times in ministry, working mostly in the north of England with impoverished communities. Over the last five years, we have moved further south. Now, I serve part-time with Calvert in a vibrant multi-cultural parish in Ilford.
My parents originally immigrated from the Caribbean in the late 1950s and were among the first wave of West Indians who immigrated to post war Britain. My formative faith experience was in the Wesleyan Church, part of the Holiness movement, where I came to faith at 16. Although I was in church from an early age, there came a point where I wanted to make a definitive decision to become a Jesus follower and be baptised.
Growing up in the urban environment of a northern city during the 1970’s, my neighbours were from a variety of cultures. Living among such a diversity of cultures was wonderful. Sharing food, festivals, family stories, fun and faith was part of my day to day experience of community life. Being in such an environment was exciting; we shared our experiences and challenges of becoming teenagers and our hopes for the future. It was simultaneously tough and glorious as I grew up in the inner city, but I learnt a lot about myself and God in relation to others.
This is probably where my interest in community, culture and learning came from. I decided then I wanted to learn more about people and went on to study this at university takings a combined degree in sociology, psychology and social policy.
What were you doing before you started at St Mellitus College?
For years I have worked alongside my husband in parish ministry while doing research and teaching before becoming ordained. My first career was in public health specialising in community development work, which involved anything from arranging cooking classes to lobbying the local council about dog fouling in public areas. I even thought about becoming a local councillor. During that time, I completed postgraduate studies in Sociology, anthropology and education. My experience and research in these areas led me to work as a lecturer at University, specialising in the voluntary sector. This culminated in working for a number of faith-based organisations such as Oasis, The Salvation Army and The Diocese of Southwark.
What do you most wish to contribute to the work of St Mellitus?
I oversee Beginning Theology which is an entry level course. Its aim is to prepare those who have never formally taken a theological course to prepare them for study at undergraduate level. The course uses a number of adult education approaches to support learning, but equally important is students formation as Christ's disciples. There intention is to combine learning about Scripture, tradition and faith experience with studying the usual conventions of academic work. It is exhilarating working alongside people who are excited to discover more about God and to see the change in them that occurs.
What we strive to create is a community of learning that is mutually supportive. In my head is the model of the early church in the book of Acts: a diverse people being brought together to praise God.
My favourite definition of theology is from St Augustine 'faith seeking understanding'. Our approach to theology on the course is that our knowledge of God is not just cerebral; discovering the divine through our minds, but is expressed in the way we live as Christ's disciples.
And what do you do when you are not at St Mellitus College?
Between parish work, teaching and managing the course, any spare time is spent writing and reading.
Gardening is a recent hobby. In the last two years I have managed to grow some decent tomatoes. It is in the garden that I find space for contemplation and communing with God. It is there I am reminded that I am not ultimately in control.