I would like to reflect on three words that sum up this first year of the Leadership with Global Perspectives doctorate programme that I have just completed with Portland Seminary.
The first is stretching.
From the Advance in Oxford and London and the initiation and orientation sessions, meeting a new cohort of unknown American students and faculty (a real challenge for a high-end introvert), coming to terms with a new field of study, to weekly reading and blogging and asynchronous conversation, to writing of papers and assignments, this year has been stretching. It has demanded time and attention and focus that I have sometimes struggled to find. It has made me read things, write things and think about things that I would not otherwise have been confronted with, and it has broadened my horizons and my experience and my fields of reference above and beyond where they previously were. This process has been very stretching. It has made me read things that I did not always want to read and to talk about things that I did not want to talk about and think about things that I struggled to grasp and comprehend.
The second word follows on from this and is struggle.
This year has sometimes been a struggle. I have struggled with my subject and my areas of research. I have struggled to hone my thesis and find a laser-sharp focus. I have struggled at times with some of the reading. But struggle should not be seen or understood in purely negative terms. In the struggling and the wrestling and the not knowing and not understanding, I have had to think, and reflect, and reorientate, and confront. I have not always enjoyed this process, but it has demanded something of me and has pushed me to move forwards. I have to dig deep at times – deadlines and dates and demands have made sure of this. This has not always been welcome, but it has been mostly beneficial.
The third word that summarizes this first year of study is serendipity.
According to Wikipedia, serendipity refers to a “fortunate happenstance” or “pleasant surprise”, and this year has been full of pleasant surprises and wonderful happenstances. The initial Advance in London and Oxford was a great opportunity to get to know a new cohort of students and the faculty a little, and to see and hear and meet some amazing people and places that I would never otherwise have encountered. Our student cohort is made up a very diverse group of people, with different church and theological and socio-economic backgrounds, and this is enriching and enjoyable for me. It has been serendipitous to meet the gracious and helpful faculty, tutors and supervisors. It has been serendipitous to read and think and talk about new things, unknown topics and uncharted territory.
I finish the year knowing that I don’t know very much and grateful for this opportunity to rub shoulders and run with others who can enrich and educate and enlarge this English man.