My wife and I got married four years ago this Friday. When we walked up the aisle after pledging ourselves in covenant before God and a couple hundred witnesses, our recessional song was Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago.” At the time, we loved it simply because it was Stevens, upbeat, had a gospel center, and had that lovely chorus line, “All things Go, All things go” mirrored how we felt about beginning our marriage. It’s rather amusing to think about because, really, McKenna and I aren’t by nature the adventuring “All things go” people Stevens’ is talking about. We both lived at home for college. Our first place was literally 15 minutes from where we grew up. We are each other’s first roommates. Little did we know how pregnant with prophetic meaning that song selection for those first forty steps as a married couple would prove.
At the time, I had just started working at my church Trinity United Presbyterian in Santa Ana, as the College and Young Adult Ministries Director. I cannot express what a privilege and blessing this job has been. I could not have written a better first ministry spot for myself. This congregation, with its rich history, worship, solid preaching, and godly people has been a wonderful place to begin pastoral work. Beyond that, it’s formed a crucial home for the first years of my marriage, and a place that my wife and I have grown as disciples of Christ. I cannot express how precious this place and its people (especially my students and partners in the Student and Family ministries) have become to us.
Working with students, young adults, and just spending time in the broader congregation shaped me as a preacher, teacher, discipler, and simply a child of God. What’s more, because of Trinity’s rich, Presbyterian, confessional and intellectual heritage, it was not seen as bizarre for me to spend time studying for sermons and writing as much as I have these last few years. It has been encouraged as an outgrowth and proper part of my church ministry to my students and peers, and for that I could not be more grateful.
While Trinity has been a wonderful home to us, after a great deal of prayer, counsel, and reflection, we realized God was calling me to pursue further academic work for the sake of the church, specifically doctoral work in systematic theology. To be honest, it has always been there in the back of my mind, but I love the church, preaching week-in and week-out, meeting with students, and so forth. Still, the last few years of reading, writing, developing intellectually, significant academic relationships, and having pretty much every one of my groomsmen and their mothers look at me and say, “Dude, you need to get your Ph.D. or I’m gonna fight you”, had its effect. So, last fall I (or rather, we) began the application process. While the process was a spiritually trying one, it has also been a strengthening one for us, which has been one of the various confirmations along the path that this road was God’s will for us.
Of course, the most significant sign came when we received the news that I had not only been accepted to the Ph.D. program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), in order to study with a man I’ve been reading, learning from, and blogging about for the last eight years, (surprise, surprise) Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer. For those who don’t know him, he’s one of the most respected Evangelical theologians working in the United States right now. While I could say a number of things about the impact his work has already had on me, I’ll simply note that his emphasis on the crucial pastoral function of doctrine for the life of the church has been at the heart of what I’ve tried to do in my own ecclesial ministry. (Here’s a nice write-up of him in Christianity Today.) And that’s not to mention all the other stellar faculty at TEDS.
Beyond that, we found out that I had been awarded the new Dahl Scholarship. This is a fellowship at full funding of tuition plus a modest stipend for four years of coursework and research. For God to open this door just seemed too obvious an opportunity to walk away from. So we took it.
I’ll be honest, “excited” doesn’t begin to cover it. If you’d have told me a couple of years ago, that I’d be getting this shot, I would have laughed in your face. (Though, McKenna insists she knew something like this would happen all along). And yet, that’s the reality. This Fall, Lord willing, I’ll begin coursework for my Ph.D. in systematic theology at TEDS with Kevin Vanhoozer as my supervisor.
For those of you who may be wondering, my provisional subject of research will be a be doctrinally-constructive account of the attribute of God’s holiness. I hope to examine God’s holiness in biblical theology (OT, NT), moving on through historical accounts, and in the end, formulating a systematic account that deals with what it means for the Triune God to be eternally holy, in both the moral and the ontological sense. From there, I want to develop some applications of God’s holiness for how we think about atonement and the church’s own holiness. At least, that’s the plan right now.
As for what the plan is afterward? We’re not sure. At this point, I’m comfortable with the ideas of teaching in seminary or returning to full-time church work. Honestly, after four years of preaching and teaching at least twice a week 50 weeks of the year, I’m actually kind of scared about how much I’m going to miss the pulpit (or, dinky music stand, really). Something in-between like a pastor-theologian sounds pretty appealing, right now. But a lot can happen in four years.
Moving and Prayers
Of course, as many of you have put together already, that means we’re going to move. We’ll be living at Trinity in Deerfield, Illinois, about a half an hour outside of Chicago, (hence my intro). After 29 (and 28) years of living in California, we’re heading out to the Midwest. As I told my students the other night, “The Trinity is moving us from Trinity to Trinity.”
Oh, and, by the way, it’s happening in about a month (end of July, beginning of August). Which is why we need your prayers. For everything.
But also, these specific things:
- Marriage. After God, our relationship as man and wife is job number one for us. We don’t want that to change. A Ph.D is great, but not worth our covenant. Please pray this time is a special one of strengthening and marital joy.
- Moving. We’ve never done that before. Not really. There’s a ton of work we need to do. Pray that God gives us wisdom and good deals on moving stuff.
- A good church and community. We have to find a church that I’m not working at. That’s weird for us. But we know the importance of being plugged into a good church where we can find godly community and fit well. Pray that we find a healthy, gospel-rich church, and that we’re ready to be flexible on non-essential preferences. Also, the TEDS community. I already know a couple of great people in it. Still, we want to make friends and contribute to whatever community we find there.
- Job. Yes, I’m receiving a scholarship, for which we are very grateful and without which we could not go, but my wife is leaving her job, so we want to find something for her fairly quick. For those in the area, or who know people, she’s got a B.A. in Social Studies and history, a teaching credential, and an M.A. in Education. For the last two years, she has worked in administration at a local K-8 parochial school and is super at administrative stuff. If you know of anything, feel free to shoot me a tweet or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Family and friends. We love our families and friends and we’re fairly sure they love us. We’re gonna miss them. Also, they’re going to miss us. Please pray for our hearts and theirs in this time.
- Studies. Finally, please pray for my studies. This is a gift of time and resources that I want to steward well for the sake of the church and God’s kingdom. Pray that I focus, grow, and am dependent on and empowered by the Holy Spirit to be present in my program. I mean, seriously, if you’re not a cessationist, pray for me to receive the gift of tongues. Like French and German.
Wrapping it Up
A few last details are worth noting.
First, moving and getting a Ph.D. is likely going to be a time-consuming task. Just a guess. For that reason, I’m probably going to be doing a lot less blogging and popular writing for the next few months until I get my Ph.D.-legs under me. And even then I don’t know how much I’ll be able to do. I’m not stopping completely, of course. I don’t think I could. Still, part of stewarding God’s gifts to me in this program is stewarding my time and intellectual energies, despite the immediate joy and blessing I receive from writing in this format. So, if you see things slow down, that’s probably why. (Oh, also, I’m not likely to slow the podcast down, though).
Second, there are far too many people to thank at this time: parents, friends, students, co-workers, pastors, professors, fellow-writers, editors, and mentors from near and far. Suffice it to say that if there is one thing that this experience has taught McKenna and I, it is that God’s providential care comes through the community of God’s people. None of the fruit that this process has already produced would have been possible without the Spirit-empowered words and prayers of our spiritual family.
Well, there you have it: The Rishmawys are moving to Chicago. All Things Go! All Things Go!
Soli Deo Gloria