A LONG AND ARDUOUS JOURNEY

An MPhil Degree is short for ‘Master of Philosophy’ although it usually has nothing to do with philosophy. Normally, to qualify to do this you need a first degree and a master’s degree in the subject you’re wanting to study. An MPhil is halfway between a master’s degree and a doctorate or PhD, although it’s nearer the doctorate than the master’s.

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It’s a ‘research’ degree which means you teach yourself – it’s up to you to find all the relevant books, resources, journals and online articles which you need to think things through and make your case. You also need time with your tutors.

You have to produce a thesis of 60,000 words (80-100,000 for a doctorate) and you have to show that you’ve broken new ground in research and thinking on the subject, in order to persuade your examiners to award your degree to you.

I started mine when in Romania, not realising just how difficult it would be. For a start, no bookshops there sold English theological books, nor did the libraries stock them. All my resources had to be found on the internet or on the trips I had to do to the UK, when I saw my tutors (and also visited my parents and family!) There were virtually no resources for what I wanted to do anyway, because nobody was doing any thinking or reflection in the area in which I was interested, so I had to learn to do some serious ferreting.

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I did it as a part-time ‘external’ student ie one who is not resident in the college, and I needed to fulfil the required number of face-to-face tutorials each year – so I would book into my college for a week or so and have an intensive time! I could also raid the college library and do loads of photocopying and fill up my case and trundle it back to Romania full of books and paper. As some of this was at the height of the terrorist attacks I had some very full-on airport searches sometimes!

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I have learned a HUGE amount and not least, about how God answered my prayers and led and helped me continually, so that I had a strong sense all the way through that He wanted me to do this. For a start, my first degree is not in theology and I don’t have a master’s. This in itself would normally disqualify me but in view of my ‘life experience’ the college staff decided that they could make the case for me to the university.

Not that I ever set out to do a research degree – I just wanted to do an ordinary Master’s and have done with it! – but such a course did not exist at that time.

Then I couldn’t find a theological college to take me on. I was looking at why the relationships between the different church denominations in Romania are so bad. I was asking why, and I wanted to look at a way in which they might improve. So I needed somewhere with staff who could cover Eastern Europe, and ecumenism (study of relationships between churches) and trinitarian theology (study of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit). So I prayed about it, and finally, after being turned down by college after college because they didn’t have the staff to cover all those areas, to my surprise St John’s College in Nottingham said they could cover it all and even got very enthusiastic about it.

Then there was the money angle. Although studying as an external student is much cheaper, it was still far more than a couple of mission partners on Ā£5,000 a year could afford.

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So I prayed about that too … and again, after a lot of searching and being turned down, I discovered two grant-making agencies whose bursaries kept me going.

Then there was the study itself! Trinitarian theology is incredibly complex and I had to start almost from scratch, although of course I had some background through my training for ordination. Some of it was REALLY, REALLY DIFFICULT and forced me to do the hardest thinking I’ve ever done. Sometimes I got totally stuck and just didn’t know how to take an argument forward. I would pray about it and it was amazing how often, next time I sat down and thought furiously about it, the answer would come. After a while I began to rely on it – it was almost like God and me working in partnership, with him teaching me about himself.

So although it was so demanding it was also an amazing privilege. I’ve learnt so much and I’ve been changed by it, and I can now understand things I didn’t understand before – and to be even more aware of how much else there is to learn.

So it’s been a long and arduous journey, but I don’t think it’s over yet. I am very vexed by the way westerners – both missionary and secular – arrive in other people’s countries and set about trying to ‘help’ or ‘put things right’ without understanding a thing about the culture of that country. In an Orthodox country like Romania,

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most missionaries feel they can only work by completely ignoring the Orthodox and behaving as if they are not a true church. This just makes relationships even angrier and more violent, and is an irresponsible way of behaving. So I hope that my studies will eventually help those going to countries with a national Orthodox church, so that they can try and work with the church, rather than against it.

However, I can’t face doing any more with it at present. I’m going to have a break and I’m hoping to have a proper graduation in the summer. But I have a feeling that God hasn’t finished with it yet – which means, neither have I!

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20 thoughts on “A LONG AND ARDUOUS JOURNEY

  1. What an extraordinary amount of dedication and perseverence and faith you have …. and it makes perfect sense that God wants this area of work to be carried out and he certainly picked the right person to do it!!!

    I really do think that all Christians should be getting closer or at least more tolerant of each other….

    šŸ™‚ Wonderful work Gilly….. and very important too šŸ™‚ You are an inspiration and I feel very blessed to “know” you….

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    1. Thank you, dt – although maybe God just knows I am pig-headed sometimes … šŸ˜‰ But it’s been amazing, I hadn’t realised how much academic work could rely on God. Even this week I had been searching for hours for a lost link, and I’d got really tired at night and went to bed thinking I would just have to remove the quotation altogether. Prayed about it … and the next day, lo and behold, I found the link which I’d been searching for, for YEARS! serves me right – I obviously should have prayed sooner!!!!!

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      1. I can believe it … sometimes I wonder if our Guardian Angels help out too……

        It is good you’ve had that experience because now you know to pray over things you wouldn’t have thought God would be keeping an eye on |-| … I’ll remember that too now so thankyou! šŸ™‚

        Just been reading one of the Catholic newspapers about the efforts of our church to build bridges with the Orthodox church and it is definitely all in the air, this movement towards trying to build bridges and it is wonderful God has placed you in this great work too……. it is all part of his great big plan I am certain….. I do think all the different strands of Christianity will eventually draw back together with a great pool of learning. It’s almost as if each strand has gone off to specialise in some aspect and when they all come back together well then EVERYTHING will be pooled together into one big picture.. :yes:

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      2. That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it! Jesus did pray that we would all be one – so that the world will believe. When are we all going to learn that the world believing is more important than the things that we think keep us apart????!!

        I am rubbish sometimes at remembering to pray about things … it will occur to me later and I’ll think ‘why on earth did I not do this before????’

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  2. I salute your perseverance and resourcefulness, Gilly. So far, it seems, your prayers have been answered.
    I’ve had a few profound spiritual experiences myself though I wouldn’t necessarily want to ‘post’ them.

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    1. thanks, Athel. Maybe ‘pigheaded’ is the word …

      I would be very interested in learning about your spiritual experiences – if you were so inclined, you could always send me a message.

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  3. Our younger son Peter, now living in Los Angeles has a MPhil. along with many of the other required qualifications.

    He specializes in Physical training and personal well being, along with nutrition.

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  4. You have worked very hard indeed and deserve your accolades, every bit and more. :yes: You are an inspiration to others.

    I am not sure that the requirements you detail, apply to all degrees. perhaps they apply to studies with a theological content?

    O.H. has an MPhil in a different area to yours. He had a first degree and then went down the arduous road to obtain an MPhil.

    A young friend has started a PhD following a first degree of study. Another person, finances willing, intends to start a PhD following a self-taught Masters from Edinburgh University.
    There are variations in the routes to doctoral study. Edinburgh will allow Masters by personal study, (MPhil in England) following a first degree.

    Other students, may take a taught Masters that involves attending a university a day or two a semester, the remaining study work being done at home. At the end, there is the inevitable dissertation to submit. There are other patterns of taking a taught Masters course.

    Your route to hard won success was not a straightforward one, but it is one about which you will always have special connections.

    I raise a warm toast to you and your wonderful achievement ā—

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  5. I am so pleased for you Gilly.I know the work is rewarding but it’s lovely to know you have done a work of real scholarship which is recognised by the college.I admire your perseverance.I have had eexoeriences of a religious nature which have been very importtant to me though i don’t aleays find conventional words appropriate.But prayer,yes!
    I am glad you are in this world

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  6. Thanks for sharing that Gilly! Post graduate work is most demanding…especially, if/when it is self-funding…and done ‘long-distance’…..Pretty tough going…combining ‘Work’ and ‘Research/Study’ – Some of us know more about that then others… Still…..Such work is its own Reward! Can Vouch for that….Congrats….Hugs! :)xxx

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  7. Its surprising what prayer does gillyk if you pray there always seems to be an answer which I have found when things have got tough :yes: well done on your studies Im pleased to hear you say working with the church and not against it that is so important :yes: it would help so many people if they had that outlook ..good luck with your studies no easy task Im sure šŸ˜‰

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    1. Thanks, Lilian! I keep on being surprised at how practical God is – that he would help me with stuff I sort of thought I would have to do on my own. It was an amazing lesson!

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