I have been telling various people that I am going for my Sabbatical this coming September. “What is a Sabbatical?” It comes from the word ‘Sabbath’. God created the world in 6 days and He rested on the 7th. Later, in the 10 commandments, Israel was commanded to observe the weekly Sabbath rest. 8“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.9Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Ex 20.8-11)In the Leviticus laws, Israel was also commanded to let the land rest after 6 years of working on it so that the soil could be rejuvenated, thereby allowing the land to enjoy longer productive years. 3 For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits,4 but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard.5 You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. (Lev 25.3-5) In the same vein, a Sabbatical is a time of rest, a leave of absence from official responsibilities, to allow the individual to do something different so that he can be refreshed and recharged. Some people travel, others do research, some others write a book during their Sabbatical. For me, I have chosen to enroll myself into a seminary to do some more studies. I am thankful that the church leadership is supportive of my decision. I am also thankful to God for providing me a scholarship through Brash Trust even as I continue to receive my salary from church.
I will be heading to Cambridge Theological Federation to do a Master of Arts in Pastoral Theology. The Federation consists of a number of colleges from different denominations. I will be a student of Westminster College, which is a Presbyterian College with a Reformed tradition. The programme will last a full 12 months. I will be taking 2 modules in the 1st semester and another 2 modules in the 2nd semester, and then for the rest of the year, I will have to write a dissertation on a topic of my choice. The Federation offers a whole range of modules that are helpful for me as a pastor. The modules on my initial wish list were Pastoral Theology (compulsory), Preaching, Christian Leadership, and Christian Spirituality. The Pastoral Theology module will give me the theological basis for carrying out my pastoral ministry; the Preaching module will sharpen my sermon preparatory and delivery skills, something which I should be constantly honing since I have been called to be a Minister of Word and Sacrament; the Leadership module will prepare me when I return, God willing, to assume greater leadership responsibilities in the local church; the Christian Spirituality module, along the line of Spiritual Formation, an area that has grown very close to my heart, will ensure that not only the skills of a leader/minister are developed, the character is also molded to be more Christ-like. I hope to do my dissertation under a Professor by the name of Philip Sheldrake whose specialised field is in the area of Christian Spirituality.
The time table has been released and to my initial disappointment, two out of four of the modules are not being offered this academic year. Well, I have anticipated that not all the modules will be offered since the cohort is not very big and the Federation wouldn’t have the resources to teach all the modules at the same time. However, I was hoping that my choice modules would be offered but it was not to be so. I made a proposal to the person in charge of the MA programme and to my surprise, it was accepted very quickly. Both Christian Leadership and Preaching are not offered this academic year but this is what I will be doing: I will do an Independent Learning module on Christian Leadership so basically, it is going to be self-study. I believe I will have to design my own course work and craft my own assignments with supervision from a teacher assigned to me. The advantage of such a custom made arrangement is that it allows me to dig deeper into leadership topics of my interests and deal with leadership issues which I grapple with back home. As for Preaching, I will be doing a Research Method module instead. This module teaches me how to write my dissertation but I have to do a project as part of the course work. What I intend to do is to set my project work on Preaching and the initial thinking is for me to listen in to various kinds of sermons preached by different pastors, be it online or in person, and collect data on what makes a good sermon. The advantage is for me to learn through observations and I think that mode of learning suits me fine. I am glad that the Federation is open for me to pursue these two modules even though officially they are not offering it in their time-table. The frightening part is that I will be treading on unconventional territory which I am never accustomed to. My comfort zone is always to do something that is ‘safe’, something that is already mapped out for me.
Accommodation has been a challenge too. The college only has rooms for students but not their families. I tried house hunting from Singapore but it is not easy to gauge the suitability of the place just based on pictures that are posted online. Things have since worked out nicely. The college is able to provide me housing at least for the first month and while I am there, I can then go for some house hunting. Ai Tin and the kids will only join me during the school holidays. Pray for us as this will be the first time I am going to be separated from them for an extended period of time. Pray especially for Ai Tin who will have to hold the fort back in Singapore.
Many people have come to tell me that Cambridge is a beautiful place. I have a friend who is doing his PhD at the University of Cambridge and he says that he is thoroughly enjoying his time there. I have not ventured into UK before so I am keen to see what that part of the world is like and how churches do things over there. I will be leaving on 17 September 2012 and I should be starting work again in True Way on 1 October 2013. If you are visiting UK and are able to drop by Cambridge, I would love to have you over. I am reminded from God’s Word, “In his heart a man plans his course,but the Lord determines his steps.” (Prov 16.9) I hope the Lord will grant me my heart’s desires for what I hope to accomplish during my Sabbatical studies but I pray that I will first desire him above all else for my true rest comes from Him and can only be found in Him.
Pastor Kien Seng
July 22, 2012