On 15-17 March 2019, about ten invited delegations of academics, postgrads and postgraduate ministry leaders gathered in New College, Oxford for the first Catalysing Postgraduate Ministry conference organised by the Oxford Pastorate as a spin-off of the Developing a Christian Mind conference. Both conferences took place in parallel, which fuelled exchange between the groups. Some CPM-participants joined one of the DCM tracks prior to the start of the CPM programme, both groups together filled New College's dining hall on Friday for formal dinner and we met in the college chapel for Saturday morning worship.
The reason for me to join the Swiss delegation from Zurich was to find inspiration and vision for building up a community of Christian PhDs. At the conference, we supported and were supported in the first place by an exchange of knowhow. We heard how new initiatives start small, but with persistency, constant adjustments and an open eye for the developments taking place, the extent of God's work cannot be foreseen. On a more practical level, food and friendships were recognised to be of key importance, as they catalyse the development of an active community.
However, the conference cannot be reduced to an intro to marketing for laymen. Hearing about God's work all over Europe and beyond is inspiring and gives hope. The sharing of experiences made us realise the variety of contexts where Christian postgrads meet. There are certainly cities where postgraduate groups flourish, and multiple organisational models have been shown to be successful. For example, some groups are church-based, some are student-led and some are pastoral in set-up, centred around the work of a ministry leader. In many European cities no official organisation exists. However, one of the most memorable testimonies was that of an academic who works in such a city, where only few Christians are around. His own life has been transformed by the gospel, and in response he has been investing time in mentoring younger Christian academics for decades. This clearly shows that even a single person can have a big impact.
One discussion session looked at the content of events to be organised. The reason why we want to work in academia is because we love ideas, both from a research and a Christian perspective. So we want to integrate our academic and Christian lives. In one of the smaller breakout sessions, on Sunday afternoon after church, we recognised that the more memorable experiences in this regard were based on literature on this topic, and in particular discussing it with peers. Many formats can be based on this idea, each with different goals, ranging from personal growth of participants to outreach or the provision of an open platform where different worldviews meet.
Finally, the conclusion on Sunday afternoon was that we are not in this alone. During the conference we started to form an international community whose impact reaches much further than all that was exchanged during these three days in March. For us, as a Swiss delegation, we will start small: we are looking forward to our first meeting across the French–German language border.
Joost Opschoor is a PhD student at the Seminar for Applied Mathematics at the ETH Zürich. He is originally from the Netherlands and is part of a Swiss group called Christian Postgrads.