Around this time two years ago, April and I moved to St. Andrews so that I could complete my PhD at St Mary’s College in the University of St. Andrews. Time has passed by quickly. In some ways, it feels as though we just arrived! Still, I thought it would be fun to devote this week’s blog to personal reflections on how living here has changed me. I do so with the hope that what I write might help others who can relate to what I am saying. There is much I could say, but I focus here on three particular areas—comforts, confidence, and calling. April might offer her thoughts in the future.
Comfort—I love many aspects of the American South; in some ways, its culture is one from which I will never escape. When I speak, I have a Southern accent that seems either to attract or repel people. When I eat, I enjoy grits, tomato gravy (look it up!), and collards. Growing up in the South did have some negatives, though. One of which was that I never felt completely accepted. While my high school classmates drove their trucks in the mud for fun or went into the woods to hunt for deer, I stayed home to watch documentaries, read history books, and follow the latest movies and music. While a misplaced desire to oppose the elite led some of the people around us to take a rather hostile tone toward education, in college I learned that I enjoyed studying and preferred it to some of the more accepted vocations in Southern culture. Moving to St. Andrews has been wonderful experience simply because we are in an international place with many motivated and professional people. It has simply been a breath of fresh air. I am learning every day how to show more of myself; in fact, I have told April that in some ways I feel that I am learning who I am for the first time.
Confidence—We came to St. Andrews in a fairly rough state. Before our arrival, I had been pastoring a church for six years. I had also worked through a ThM and was starting a PhD. I loved the seminary that I attended, but for quite some time I had felt like a failure. I could not do my research well because of my pastoral commitments; my fellow PhD students could present papers that were well-researched and clearly written while I had to finish my work the night before it was due. Also, several troubling issues kept our ministry at the church from flourishing. In short, I felt like an incompetent pastor and a poor student. While these feelings were not necessarily true, once one begins to accept such a description of one’s self it is difficult to see things differently. Since coming here, I have been able to heal from our time in the pastorate, and I have thankfully received overall positive feedback on my research. I feel as though I finally have something to offer the church and that I can perform well in the academy. I thank God for this time of recovery!
Calling– Some of our close friends know that for a season in my life I thought about walking away from full-time ministry. The difficulties of raising a family on a minister’s salary and some of the experiences we had at churches in the past pushed me in the direction of law school. Thankfully, life in the UK has revived my interest in serving the church. When I lived in a seminary town in the US, I felt as though qualified ministers were around every street corner. If I had left full-time ministry to become a lawyer, many gifted MDiv and ThM students who were looking for churches could have taken my place. The UK represents the state of things in much of the rest of the world; here we have no large seminaries, no massive denominational bureaucracy that encompasses thousands and thousands of churches, and no army of ministers waiting in the wings to serve. When you preach here, you simply find serious and sincere people who express tremendous gratitude that a younger person actually desires to teach the Bible. This fact holds true regarding the academy as well. I know so many PhD graduates back home who are looking for teaching jobs. In much of the rest of the world, though, a theologian who has taken the time to study at a high level can be a rare find. As one of my friends told me, “In the US, you complain that not enough pastors have PhDs, but where I am from we would just be glad if our seminary professors had PhDs!” I do not know what our future holds. I do not know if I will return to the church or serve in the academy. Whatever happens, I see more than ever the need for academics who have Christian convictions and also the need for prepared Bible expositors. By eschewing law school, we may never be financially successful and may even find ourselves on a lower rung of the social ladder. Nevertheless, we have decided to go “all in” to fill the church’s need for educated ministers and professors.