Student Story: Nicole Smith
Nicole Smith studied a Diploma of Theology at Mary Andrews College from 2017 to 2020. We asked Nicole to share the story of her “time to flourish”, from noticing her passion for working with seniors in her church, to studying at MAC and the joy of becoming Assistant Chaplain at the retirement village she volunteered in and seeing some of the resident’s faith rekindled. Here is her story:
While I was working as a Church Office Administrator, I came across an email about a unit of study called “Ministry with Seniors” at Mary Andrews College. I was intrigued. I had a lot of contact with the seniors in our congregation. In fact, interacting with them was a highlight of my job. I started to think, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could be better equipped to serve them?” But going back to study? That was huge.
A couple of the ministers at my church encouraged me to consider studying. I had also done some volunteering in Aged Care and was keen to become more involved in ministry with seniors. I approached our Parish Partnership Chaplain at the local retirement village and asked if I could join his team as a Student Minister, combining study with hands-on ministry experience. The Chaplain and Chapel Committee readily agreed – apparently, it’s quite rare for someone to ask to work in seniors’ ministry, so they were thrilled! At the same time, and with some trepidation, I commenced my Diploma at Mary Andrews College.
My husband would describe this period of my life as my “time to flourish”.
My husband would describe this period of my life as my “time to flourish”. The chapel community at the village were excited to have me on board. The chaplaincy team were patient and encouraging as I worked alongside them, learning from their years of experience. And at MAC, the staff team, lecturers and student community were very supportive. My confidence grew, along with my knowledge, understanding and skills.
Initially, I was only interested in studying the pastoral care units. I had no idea how wonderful it would be to also study biblical theology, church history and Christian thought. Each new unit became my “favourite subject” as it opened up more understanding and love for God and his Word.
Every unit of study at MAC helped me in some way in my chaplaincy work. Often what I learned on a Monday at college would help me on a Thursday at the village.
Every unit of study at MAC helped me in some way in my chaplaincy work. Often what I learned on a Monday at college would help me on a Thursday at the village. I felt better equipped to pastorally care for those struggling with the frailties of life, as well as to carry out the more structured aspects of my chaplaincy role, such as leading and teaching.
Upon finishing my Diploma, the Chapel Committee at the retirement village offered me the role of Assistant Chaplain. I could not have stepped into this role without the equipping from MAC and the training from the chaplaincy team.
The greatest challenges in my role came from finding ways to help seniors stay engaged with the church community and encouraged in their faith, even while their physical frailty increased.
The impact of Covid restrictions on village life also required considerable creativity to help our church community stay connected and encouraged.
Most of the people at the retirement village grew up going to Sunday School. However, not all continued to follow God in their adult years. I felt great joy when people who had ignored God for decades found their faith rekindled (or found faith for the first time) and got excited about the gospel! I also felt very privileged to walk alongside saints who continued to trust God and proclaim his goodness even amidst tremendous challenges with their health and family.
One special moment was when a congregation member thanked me for “giving us oldies the opportunity to display our God-given gifts.” My MAC studies helped me to do that.
Last October, we moved interstate with my husband’s work. With the confidence and solid foundation that MAC has given me, I plan to continue my journey of theological study, this time at Masters level. I have also been encouraged to keep going by the many messages from the precious, older saints at the village, especially one couple who urged me to “fan into flame the gift of God that is in you.”