Over the past 2 years the Scottish Baptist College has been on a journey of discernment about how best to fulfil our mission to provide theological education and ministry training across Scotland. One of our functions is to provide ministry training to the Scottish Baptist family and this family covers all of Scotland from the very far north all the way down to the border. Furthermore, we warmly welcome many from other denominations and traditions who seek to learn more of Christianity and train for a broad range of mission. Add to this, our desire to provide accessible study, recognising that much ministry happens bi-vocationally or alongside other full-time work. As we considered all of these things and more besides, we were determined to find a way to remain committed to learning in community while exploring ways to serve this wider constituency.

Around 2 and half years ago, and throughout 2019, we took small steps to exploring some options. We developed a Northern hub which helped to connect with those who wanted to train for ministry but were located too far to commute to our Paisley campus. We also held our first ever online class – this prototype class took place primarily over Zoom (before it became cool!) which allowed us to experiment with teaching in real-time, where we could maintain learning in community with interactions between students and lecturers, but not be bound to any one physical location.

Fast forward to March 2020 and the circumstances of Covid-19 saw all of our classes move to this online but interactive format. Though we had already been in negotiation with the Digital Theological Library (DTL), it was quickly actioned to allow our students access to over 600,000 theological books online. The transition to online teaching in March wasn’t seamless, but in retrospect, with all that we had already been thinking about, we were well-prepared to maintain the same level of learning through a turbulent time.

Over a year later, we’re still in this mode of delivery and along the way we’ve adapted and adjusted to life online. Our classes take place as normal on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays. We still gather together for prayers and we still have some community times throughout the week. Despite the difficulties of the past year – parents juggling study and home-schooling; students losing jobs and income from the lack of hospitality industry; illness and bereavement – we remain a vibrant, faith-filled, supportive, and welcoming community!

And our welcoming community grows! We’ve been able to welcome new students who previously found the College inaccessible. We’ve had a couple of students from Orkney and others from more distant (to Paisley) locations around Scotland. We’ve also had a modular student join us from South Africa. We started the SBLC as online evening short courses and in one of those sessions we had a participant from North America. We’ve tried our best to use the opportunity of this season to serve churches across Scotland and beyond!

So that’s the story so far. But it doesn’t end there. Currently we’re seeking formal University approval to deliver our BD (Hons) course online so that we can maintain this form of delivery. We plan to offer part-time, full-time, and modular access to all our modules beginning with our entry level modules in September 2021. The modules will be delivered in the same interactive online model described above – real-time, face-to-face interactions with the lecturers and other students allowing us to mirror the same quality of learning of on-campus teaching. We’ll deliver these on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings (7:30-9:30pm again mirroring the on-campus timetable) meaning that they can be taken outside of the traditional working day. We hope that this will open up our learning community to many more people who want to delve deeper into their faith.

We’re not losing our on-campus delivery – that will remain much like it was. We’ll be delivering modules Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday mornings (10:30am-12:30pm) in Paisley on campus at UWS. We recognise for some students this is still the preferred way to study enjoying University campus life and the opportunity to have a designated study area. It’s good for the College to have a home within UWS and we are rooted there…but our branches are growing!

You’ll be able to find out more about either mode of delivery through one of Discovery Days or Exploration Evenings or you can get in contact with graham.meiklejohn@uws.ac.uk to start a conversation about studying with us. We’re excited about this step forward and we hope that you’ll join us on the journey.