Theological Reflection as illustrated by Tea

You make tea. You boil the kettle, lob a couple of teabags in the pot, add boiling water, and wait. Add milk now or later, pour tea into a mug, find a biscuit (in case the tea is a bit wet) and there you are. A cuppa. A very British thing, and something you’ve done thousands of times.

Now imagine you are going to write a 3000 word pastoral reflection on making a cup of tea in the same way you would about a conversation or experience (an exercise we as first year ordinands are about to undertake). Suddenly, something you’ve been doing all your life (making tea, talking to people) needs to be pulled apart and scrutinized. Questions need to be asked as we attempt to describe our experience in terms of a reflective model. Something like this…

Why did you need the tea? What was the context? Were you making tea for yourself, or for other people? Who were the other people? Why did they need tea? Whose voice isn’t being attended to? Are there coffee drinkers who are being marginalised? Someone in need of a custard cream, who is too shy to speak?

You put water in the kettle. Reflect on the theological significance of water (Samaritan woman; baptism; water flowing from Jesus’ side; where we see water in church in the Eucharist). Where did the water come from? What does having clean tap water mean for us, versus the countries who struggle? What about bottled water, and consumerism?

The kettle. There’s an unseen power to the kettle. Is that like the Holy Spirit? What is the kettle made of? Where are those parts from, or made? What colour is it? Why is that colour important? Where is the kettle in the kitchen, and what does that choice say about the context in which you are operating? What other agencies are involved in the creation of the kettle?

Do you use a tea pot or a mug? What does the choice of teapot mean in terms of your understanding of Christian hospitality? What might be the theological significance of a large teapot, indicating generosity and hospitality? What Biblical resonances are there for you about tea pots? (shared meals, refreshment…) What about mugs? Does it have a picture or a happy slogan on it? What might that mean for the drinker?

Milk. Milk is from cows. Where do cows fit into God’s bounteous creation and our need for stewardship of resources? Is there a theology of veganism that needs to be brought into play here?

Then of course the very difficult questions. Milk in first or second? These debates have divided society and have a real power to speak to us about the need to live with difference. Indeed, we might consider the splits in the historical or contemporary church as analogous. After all, we have the same aim (tea) but are convinced our understanding of the mechanism by which this is obtained are correct.

Then there are the fringe groups, those who would eschew builders’ tea in favour of hot water and fruit concoctions. Is that really tea? Can we include this in our definition, or is their stance just so different they are drinking a different drink? How big is our tent? (metaphorical, of course, this isn’t a reflection about camping). What is your essential theology of tea?

What have we learned about ourselves, our spirituality and our ministry from this tea? What might we do differently in the future?


  1. All I know is, if I haven’t had a cup first thing I can’t function. Perhaps if I was more dependant on reading my Bible, or praying first thing that would also improve my functioning! Tea lesson learned!

  2. I write as a marginalised coffee drinker. Yes, we exist, and yes we resent it…. Please always include us and our needs…

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