Jubilee Guest Blog Post: Nirmal Fernando

Acceptance looks like a passive state, but in reality it brings something entirely new… Eckhart Tolle

       Those words may be appropriate as a title to what I’m minded to write here, as it is ‘acceptance’ by the UTU that shaped one of the two followings I have in discipleship. I first heard of the Urban Theology Unit, as it was then called, some fifteen years ago

from a Methodist Minister in London who remarked that Rev Dr John Vincent was the only Methodist Minister to originate two organisations outside the Church.

Shortly thereafter, John invited me to Sheffield and I was introduced to the various projects and houses of the Ashram Community. However, I do not recall anything being mentioned about the UTU! My academic and professional studies being long completed, I had not come to take any courses, never mind in Theology, in which I have no formal education or training, my discipline and profession throughout having been in the Law.

However, I was more than familiar with the many texts in the Bible, particularly those relating to the life and teachings of Jesus, having learnt that from childhood while yet at my mother’s knee. I believe John’s sharp mind sensed that, and I was encouraged to write exegeses and introduced to numerous secondary texts I had not sighted before.

Over ten years ago, whilst in Sri Lanka, I wrote a paper titled: The Logos, Word, and Dharma and sent it to John. I was invited to present that at the next UTU Summer School which took place at that homely place on Abbeyfield Road. Although John wished that it should be published, it has not yet quite fitted in with themes of UTU or Ashram publications. However, some other essays I was invited to write, such as; Jesus’ Recall to Discipleship in Community: Revisiting the Final Chapter in the Johannine Narrative, and Radical Christianity as Intentional Community have been kindly published by the UTU.

My discipleship is only a twofold following; one, ‘home-based caring and sharing’ and two, ‘reading, researching, contemplating, and writing to en-flesh within my being the words and way of life attributed to Jesus and his band of disciples, and sharing insights from those exercises with those interested’. It is towards shaping the second following that the UTU contributed by acceptance.

Today, my work has been accepted and published by international academic forums such as the Society of Biblical Literature, European Association of Biblical Studies, and the European Association for the Study of Religions. As I write this paper, an email arrived inviting me to present a paper this summer at a conference to be hosted by the Pontifical Biblical Institute of the Gregorian University in Rome. All this would not have been possible but for John’s unreserved acceptance and mentoring over the past years; personally, at Ashram, and not forgetting the UTU.

Nirmal Fernando

Ashram Community and Urban Theology Union

Sri Lanka, 23 January 2019

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