The workload over the past few years, plus the increased ideological tension attached to social media use, has led to the inactivity of my blog. But with a big change underway, I wanted to offer some reflections in the spirit of joyful gratitude about the work I have been a part of, and about the work I am lunging into.
Cranmer and St John’s: what fantastic, vibrant, and truly loving communities. I am so thankful to have entered my academic vocation on “the Bailey” in Durham, England.
I was charged with the task of creating a seminary training pathway for non-Anglicans in the North East, a beautiful but comparatively under-resourced part of England. What we ended up with (after a LOT of hard work, some dead ends, and many discussions both challenging and wonderful) was “the Free Church Track in Missional Leadership” (the FCT).
When non-CoE churches in our region identify potential ministry leaders, there have been few formal options for theological training that did not require a long distance move. Evangelicals were thus drawn South to excellent institutions like Moorlands Theological College, Spurgeon’s College, London School of Theology, et al.
Moving South sometimes means staying South.
But with the FCT in place, now they can stay in the region and study in Durham, a world-heritage site where communities have been studying theology for over a 1,000 years. We have access to the top-ranked Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University, and work in the rich heritage of St John’ College that has celebrated the best in both church and academy since its founding. Here is our tagline:
“Forming missional leaders in the North East, for the North East, and for Beyond the North East.“
As the FCT has grown, other options for training have been emerging. God seems to be in this. He is most certainly in the lives and work of the many students I have gotten to know who have collectively taught and ministered to me every bit as much as I have offered anything to them.
Leaving is going to be hard.
So why leave?
As the FCT grew, I took on more and more opportunities to teach biblical studies (with enthusiasm). I moved to Durham in 2011 to begin PhD work on John’s Gospel because the vocational tug was to form the church’s emerging pastors and ministers through teaching Scripture. I have gotten to do that at Cranmer. Yet there is ever a tussle between the dual focus of leading a training pathway and delivering the teaching (along with the uphill battle most of us with “PhD” on our business cards struggle to climb, which is to research and write in our field). In a UK theological college, this tug-of-war is the stuff of every hour, and we inhabit the tug for the sake of the gospel. The new post at Ridley will have its own tensions—our work in these TEIs (theological education institutions… again, read “seminary”) is to offer robust pastoral mentoring and formational guidance alongside teaching. But the New Testament Tutor job allows me new opportunities for leaning into the direction of my training and calling.
Cranmer is as strong as ever right now as an institution. I am as excited about the FCT now as I was at its start… more so, in fact. It is not a good time to leave…
Except that maybe it is. Maybe the worst time for me to leave is the best time for someone else to arrive. Plans are in place for the next chapter. And I think the FCT will benefit from someone less torn between a voracious yearning to write-research-teach and the demands of carrying an exciting training program. A new—and I genuinely think a better—chapter awaits the Free Church Track.
And I am off to Ridley Hall, part of the Cambridge Theological Federation. As NT Tutor, I am not on the Faculty of Divinity at the University. The relationship between colleges and halls and universities are hard for us Americans to understand. Ridley and Cambridge University have a strong relationship, and I will get to join in the atmosphere and deliver some teaching for University students. But my primary job will be teaching and forming those called to ministry and located within the theological college/seminary context, which really suits my vocational desires and strengths. Teaching at an evangelical seminary at Cambridge University… I am not sure I would have dreamed this up as a forestry major at UGA or even as an MDiv student at Beeson Divinity School.
The decision-making process was simply AWFUL. But as the dust settles, I am excited for Cranmer, and excited about moving to Cambridge.
But please hear this, oh North East of England: you will always be the Byers family’s first UK “home.”