Apprentices to Christ – learning by doing

WelCom August 2019: Annette Scullion Parishioners in the Palmerston North Diocese and others around the country were treated to an insight about discipleship and ‘learning as Christians by doing’, by visiting…

WelCom August 2019:

Annette Scullion

Apprentices to Christ – learning by doing Archdiocese of Wellington

Professor Thomas O’Loughlin speaking to parishioners and guests in New Plymouth. Photo: Fr Simon Story

Parishioners in the Palmerston North Diocese and others around the country were treated to an insight about discipleship and ‘learning as Christians by doing’, by visiting historical theologian, Professor Thomas O’Loughlin, Professor of Historical Theology, University of Nottingham, UK.

Professor O’Loughlin was in New Zealand in July as one of three keynote speakers at a Eucharistic Convention in Auckland, which looked at changes and new roles in the Church, prayer and worship. He also gave a series of lectures about ministry, discipleship and the sacraments to groups of priests, parishes and organisations around New Zealand. His visit was largely organised by Fr Peter Murphy of Papakura, Auckland, and supported by Good Shepherd College – Te Hēpara Pai, as well as the Dioceses of Auckland, Palmerston North, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Dublin-born Professor O’Loughlin has held the chair in Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham for ten years and he is a priest of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton on England’s south coast.

A specialist in the early Church and the early medieval period, he sees one of his key tasks as communication – taking the fruits of academic research and communicating its insights to a wider public. He draws on the experience of Christian living and believing in the past to understand what is important for Christians today to make sense of their faith. His extensive knowledge of early Christian and Church history draws people toward a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Eucharist today. Liturgy and sacraments are a key focus of his work.

Visiting several parish centres in the Palmerston North Diocese Professor O’Loughlin spoke to parishioners about journeying as disciples of the Lord from the perspective of St Luke’s Gospel. The well-attended presentations were held in New Plymouth, Stratford, Hawera, Whanganui, Palmerston North, Hastings and Napier.

Irene Crossan from the Catholic Parish of New Plymouth said Professor O’Loughlin talks were ‘wonderful and he was an extremely engaging speaker’. Sophia Macris from Palmerston North said he was ‘a great presenter, with so much depth and a sense of humour too.’

Fr Craig, Butler of Hawera said, ‘he drew on comparisons of early Christian communities, particularly the Qumran community. He challenged us to think as disciples who learn from Christ and follow him as apprentices who continue to learn right through life.’

A range of Professor O’Loughlin’s books on the Liturgy and the Eucharist are available for purchase Pleroma Christian Supplies online at:

Becoming Christian

Bishop Peter Cullinane

Professor O’Loughlin reminded us that ‘disciple’ is best translated as ‘apprentice’. It involves learning by doing and takes a life-time. By doing what is Christian we become Christian. In the same way, we become the Christian Church. It has all the characteristics of a journey and knowing how to adjust. In fact, the faith was first known as the ‘way’ and it existed within Judaism. Once it moved into the Greek world it took on the name of Christian.

St Luke presents his gospel as a journey, setting out from Nazareth and ending up in Jerusalem. In between are recollections of things Jesus said and did, and Luke selected them as challenges to the various groups within the Christian community. Each had its strengths and its weaknesses. And they have their counter-parts today!

Many of them would still have had an intimate knowledge of Judaism. There were the Pharisees, who knew that holiness is wherever you were in the world. But they thought of it mainly as keeping pure, often ritual purity. Having the right vestments was important. They needed to hear the story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman who used her hair to wipe his feet. She is a direct provocation to their concepts of purity.

There were the Qumran folk who felt they needed to avoid the world altogether. They were the predecessors of Western monasticism. They needed to hear the story of the Prodigal son who is the traitor to the covenant, who lives in impurity and arrives back to a welcome without punishment.

There were those could only think of Jesus’ return at the end of time. The Apocalypse was their style and they emphasised the urgency of the Kingdom. They needed to hear the story of woman and the lost coin (the girl story) coupled with the story of the lost sheep and the shepherd (the boy story) that shows that the coming of the Kingdom is a party.

There were also converts from the gentile world, and some of these would have thought of ‘the way’ in much the same way as they thought of the other religions ‒ they looked to them for the answers to their questions. ‘Religion’ can become a bit of a preoccupation with right doctrine. They needed to hear that Christian faith is relationship with the person of Christ and that Christian Discipleship is not a thing ‘I own’.