So, I delivered my seminar paper for the Theology and Ethics seminar at New College yesterday. This is something every PhD student at the college will do. It is a gathering of all the post-graduates as well as the Theology and Ethics faculty. Normally there is a faculty member from another institution there to present a paper for about 45 minutes. A couple times per semester two PhD students will present their research. Honestly, it can be a bit nerve racking to put your research out there and hear what others think about the where you are going with it. All in all, it went about as well as I expected. Which means, it wasn’t horrible.
However, it wasn’t the presenting of the paper that was a striking for me. It was the experience after the paper. After the paper everyone dispersed and I realized that most of the people with whom I had entered the PhD program or who were working on their PhDs when I got here, were gone or leaving. I went to lunch and realized that my time here is almost over. Most of the friends with whom I have laughed and exchanged ideas are no longer at New College. There is a new group of folks and they are really great, but I don’t know them like I knew the people who are now gone.
It is a funny thing studying for this PhD. It is odd being back in school and realizing that this is just a temporary moment in my life. A temporary moment that is almost over. Many of the friendships I have made here will continue; some will not.
While my relationships with friends from my PhD times are great, what I am starting to realize is how much I will miss the church family we have. In this same moment, I am realizing more and more how much I miss my church family back in the States. It is easy to think about an idealized version of the church and love that. It is much harder in the midst of the living life together to truly confess with the Apostles’ Creed: I believe… in the holy catholic Church. It takes faith when you are in the midst of a group of people who do not seem to be all that holy. Living in this church and loving this group of people is hard.
The demand to love the church, the believe in the holiness and catholicity of the church seems nearly impossible. The ability to love the church, however, is not something we just conjure up in ourselves, but something that the Lord gives to us freely. We are able to love each other and live life together because the Lord first loved us and has drawn us into life with him (1 John 4:10, 19). Kelly Kapic puts it this way:
It is only in entering more and more deeply into this particular community — gathered around God’s gifts — that we can be collectively filled up and poured out for the world…. Fellowship with the people of God is connected to fellowship with the triune God. As those who have then experienced God’s welcoming hospitality and grace, God’s people will be a community that extends hospitality and love to others in need.
I have made many friends doing a PhD. The closest ones are the ones with whom I have an eternal connection. Whether I find those close friends at New College or Christian Church Edinburgh, when the time to leave comes, it will be hard to say goodbye. God draws an odd group of people around himself in the church. It is a people that have no connection to each other, often no natural affinities with each other, and from all over the world. It is these people that he draws together into one family, and when we learn to love that family, we find it hard to say good-bye.