“Orchestrated” is the word that comes to mind for this sabbatical. We’ve tentatively planned for this trip for six years, but all my “budget” plans fell apart and the Lord brought together a trip that wouldn’t have been possible six years ago. He answered prayers that I didn’t even have the nerve to pray for–desires of my heart that seemed like too much to ask, in the category of a “pipe dream.” He used old friends and new friends to establish our path and make possible all the details of this sabbatical trip.
Without naming names, I have tried to record here the unforeseen events and old and new friends that played a part in the orchestrating of this trip. I almost guarantee that I’m leaving someone or something out, but, if I didn’t mention you, please know that the Lord used you to make it possible for us to go to the UK and serve alongside these churches.
September 2012: Scott begins teaching worship philosophy and aesthetics full time at the seminary. Friends, a seminary professor and his wife from our church, reminisce about their wonderful days in Cambridge during several sabbaticals. They encourage us to consider going to the UK on sabbatical in six years to research (and experience) historic worship traditions. They stayed at Tyndale House at Cambridge–a research institute and extensive theological library, which, rather uniquely, has on-site housing available at very low cost for visiting professors from around the world. We begin praying about this possibility.
July 2017: Scott applies for his research sabbatical for spring 2019.
October 2017: Scott speaks at the NCFIC conference in North Carolina. He is introduced at the conference by a pastor from the UK.
November 2017: In preparation for sabbatical, Scott applies for housing for visiting professors at Tyndale House, Cambridge. Tyndale House responds that they have no family housing available for the foreseeable future. Scott puts our name on the waiting list.
November 2017: Scott talks to a friend from church, currently on sabbatical, who, with his wife, just finished seven weeks living at Tyndale House. This friend recommends no more than four weeks there max. Seven weeks there was too many and would be even more difficult with four children.
December 2017: I start looking at other options for housing, but the Tyndale House situation seems unique. No other accommodations that I can find come anywhere close to the low cost of Tyndale.
February 2018: Scott is invited to the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, to speak at their School of Theology conference.
June 2018: A family flat opens up at Tyndale House, but the dates are a little off with Scott’s sabbatical. We begin scrambling to figure out how to make it work.
June 2018: Scott talks to an old friend, who, along with his wife and their four young children, is currently on sabbatical and living at Tyndale House. This friend says he does not recommend staying at Tyndale with children. Because it is a theological library, children can’t play outside except on Sundays, and the facility is generally not family friendly. He says if they were to do it over, they would find other accommodations. We begin praying about other options and decide to wait to accept or decline the opening at Tyndale until after Scott returns from London in July, especially as I’m having a hard time working out the dates.
July 2018: My sister recommends that I start listening to Rick Steves’ radio podcast to get ideas about where else in the UK we could live. I tell Scott that I wish we could find a place in the Cotswolds (a Rick Steves “favorite” northwest of London full of medieval thatched cottages and picturesque villages), but I can’t find anything within our budget there. Also, Scott knows I’ve wanted to visit the Isle of Skye (Inner Hebrides Islands, Scotland) ever since I read The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey (“golden era” mystery writer in the vein of Agatha Christie), but now I learn about the Outer Hebrides from Rick Steves–more sheep than people, white sand and silver sand beaches and turquoise water, bioluminescent plankton. I tell Scott, maybe we should spend the semester in the Outer Hebrides and really get away from it all. I make him listen to the podcast episode about the plankton. I’m serious, but we chuckle since we could never afford a long-term stay on an island.
July 2018: Scott prepares to leave for London. He gets a call from a friend asking if he could take some books to England for a pastor there. It’s the pastor who’d introduced Scott at the NCFIC conference the previous October. Scott agrees, and he and the pastor arrange to meet at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
July 2018: Scott speaks at the Metropolitan Tabernacle School of Theology conference. He meets with the pastor there and makes other friends from all over the UK. The pastor mentions that he knows of a church or two currently without a pastor that might be interested in Scott preaching for them during his sabbatical in exchange for housing in their manse (parsonage). He begins making contacts on Scott’s behalf. We begin praying about this new possibility of not only going to the UK for research but being handed a giant ministry opportunity at the same time.
August 2018: We do a little internet research and discover that quite a few conservative Baptist churches in the UK are without pastors–some have been without a regular pastor for over a decade! Scott contacts a few of these churches and also mentions his availability to preach to a friend from the Metropolitan Tabernacle and asks her to please let him know if she knows of churches needing preaching assistance.
August 2018: Our UK pastor friend connects us with a meeting house in Ireland that holds evangelistic church services only when they’re able to secure a preacher. They have an empty manse (parsonage) next to the church meeting house.
August 2018: In hopes that the Lord will work out the timing and housing situation and ministry opportunities in the UK, I begin the homeschool year based around British studies (more on that in another post). I join a UK Charlotte Mason homeschooling group in which I’m able to glean lots of helpful information from women all over the UK. They put me in contact with a member who spends part of the year in the UK and part of the year in Texas! She gives me lots of good tips. Scott and I pray for definitive plans, one way or the other, by the end of September.
September 2018: Another pastor in the UK offers for our family to use his cottage in the UK while we’re there for ministry. It’s in the Cotswolds. He also owns a home in the Netherlands. Would we also like to use that home for a couple of weeks?
September 2018: A church near London, which has been without a regular pastor for eight years, contacts Scott through the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
September 2018: A church on the south coast of England, in Dorset, contacts Scott. They have been without a pastor for twelve years and recently hired a pastor but would be interested in Scott coming to preach on worship during this transition time.
September 2018: The church near London votes to extend an invitation for Scott to preach for them for as long as he’s able. We begin praying about a vehicle, as we will have about a 2-hour commute to this church from the Cotswolds, and airline tickets.
September 2018: Through contacts with the church, we are offered a very low rental rate on a 7-seater vehicle (a “people carrier”) from a Christian car dealer who rents vehicles to missionaries on furlough, etc.
September 2018: Another UK church near Ipswich (northeast of London near the Suffolk coast) contacts Scott. Though without a pastor, they have filled their schedule with local men, but we are welcome to stay in their manse (parsonage) as we have need, as it is empty.
September 2018: Airline tickets drop by thousands. We stop everything in the middle of violin practice when the Google Flight alert comes through. We’re able to secure tickets from March through the high tourist season (July) for the price of a domestic flight (under $500). Tickets have not dropped that low again for travel through July one single time since.
October 2018: The church/house in Ireland falls through due to a land dispute. But our pastor friend knows of another church whose pastor recently retired and they are without a regular minister. Would we be at all interested in going to the Outer Hebrides?
October 2018: The church on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, extends an invitation for Scott to preach. They offer us accommodations. Two ferries cross a stretch of the North Atlantic to get to the island. We’re taking the shorter ferry from the Isle of Skye.
January 2019: We begin thinking and praying about details. Our pastor friend offers a pack n’ play (“travel cot” in UK lingo) and two car seats that we’re welcome to borrow during our stay.
February 2019: The church on Lewis offers us a 6-seater vehicle, should we need it.
UPDATE, February 2019: A church in central London offers us accommodations in their empty manse (parsonage) for whenever we might need to be in London. This is a huge blessing, as finding accommodations for six in London is difficult and extremely expensive, and we have a few very early London flights and trains that we need to catch.
And that about brings us up to the present. We’re packing and planning and continuing to pray, and details are falling into place. We’re excited about the upcoming opportunities to make new friends and live and serve alongside likeminded believers in another country and so thankful to the Lord for His direction and answered prayer and for the many people who’ve prayed and who’ve given of their time and possessions to make this possible. We covet your prayers as we prepare to go.