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Recent Whitley Graduate Jan Coates has been a part of our community since 2014. After deciding that she wanted to do more just read about Theologians, Jan enrolled in a Master of Arts (Theology) course – later renamed the Master of Theological Studies. Towards the end of her degree, Jan realised that there were many more units that she wanted to explore, so she decided to sign up for a Master of Theology (Coursework).
Jan was awarded her degree a few days before her 65th Birthday this year. “I know I’m not the oldest student ever to cross the threshold, but I got a real sense of achievement from that.”
Since graduating in March, Jan has returned to reading texts from her favourite theologians for fun and interest, rather than study. Her absolute favourite activity is reading. “Whether I’m indoors or out, if I’m ‘relaxing’ it’s with a good book.” She’s also supporting friends who are writing their own books by proof-reading and helping with book launches. Jan credits the knowledge gained as a theology student as a major reason why she enjoys being involved in groups with people of other denominations and faiths. Her theological context allows her to connect with others and appreciate other perspectives despite the differences of beliefs and experiences. An important focus for Jan since studying is her commitment to supporting a group of survivors of clerical abuse.
Jan is married with two adult sons and a teenage cat to look after. They live on an acre, have plenty of garden to maintain, and are blessed to have visiting wildlife to watch and appreciate. Jan is happy to take the days as they come and doesn’t have set plans. “If I can contribute to opportunities meaningfully, I will take them, otherwise I have learnt to pass them up.”
Thinking about her time at Whitley and how her experience interacted with her faith, Jan says; “Studying at Whitley helped me to clarify a lot of my thoughts on how faith can be put into practise. I’m particularly invested in assisting the homeless – not just humans, but also the most voiceless of all: non-human animals – after consideration of the narratives within the Biblical texts. I have also developed an interest in other faith paths, historical and modern, that have parallels with biblical stories, working with others to find ways to coexist peacefully.”
Some of her favourite Whitley memories are sitting down to soup and rolls with staff and students in the old common room at Parkville, and spending hours in the beautiful surrounds of the Blackburn Library. “I seemed to spend most of my lecture time in the Manley Room, so I have many memories of the various lectures and discussions held within those walls. Meeting Principal Ken Manley somehow made being in that room even more precious.”
Jan says that taking units in Church History restored her interest in history in general, and finding the Historical Society further boosted her interest in this field. Jan reflects that the atmosphere at Whitley was mostly one of camaraderie and fun.
Jan feels fortunate to have encountered such a wonderful faculty at Whitley. “There are several lecturers who will remain firm favourites in my mind. Their open minds, willingness to explore outside the box and let me express my heretical views enticed me to keep studying further afield than the prescribed reading. I’m not going to name names, but most have retired, so I consider myself to have been very lucky to have met and studied under them over the years.”
When reflecting on the best advice received as a student, Jan recalls it was “don’t overthink anything, go with your gut feel.” Advice that put her in good stead. When asked what advice she would give to someone considering theological study, Jan says “keep an open mind, be prepared to give up a lot of what you have been told is truth and find your own truth.”
That’s great advice we think!