Dr Brian Harris; Vose Principal

About a Sabbatical and a Flight on a Dreamliner…

At present Rosemary and I are in London, where I am serving as a visiting international scholar at Spurgeon’s College. I am owed more Sabbatical leave than I can take, and the good folk at Vose Seminary, where I serve as principal, said that it really was time that I started taking some of it, so I am here for 12 weeks.

I have several goals for the time…

  • Getting to know the theological and Bible College scene in the UK a little better, as well as the Higher Education environment in which it operates.
  • Exploring the church in the UK, gaining a sense of what it is doing well, and what can be learnt from their experience. It seems to me that the church in the UK faces a more difficult environment than we currently do in Australia, but I suspect that their experience might soon be ours, so I am keen to see ways in which they are interacting with their changing context.
  • Making significant progress on my next book, which explores the topic of the formation of spiritual leaders. I like to quantify things, so define significant progress as the first 50 000 words – an ambitious target to be sure, but I’d rather aim high and fall a little short, than to aim at nothing, and achieve it.
  • I’m hoping that the time away from Vose will give me an opportunity to reflect on the journey Vose has been on – what has gone well, what less so, and what the next few stages in the journey might hold.
  • Networking with some key leaders.
  • Making use of some speaking opportunities.

One week into our time, how is it going?

Rather nicely actually. I can’t speak highly enough of the staff and students at Spurgeon’s. They have gone out of their way to make us comfortable and to feel welcome. Bottom line – they have been exceptionally kind. I’m genuinely impressed. There is an excellent tone at the College, and the new principal Prof Philip McCormack is doing an outstanding job. The College recently announced that it plans to become a self accrediting University College, so has begun the mammoth administrative task of getting their application ready. They are doing this with an eye to the future, and are making use of some recent changes in the UK Higher Ed landscape that make this possible. Naturally this is more than a little interesting to me, especially as all Australian College of Theology (ACT) colleges (of which Vose is one) are awaiting the outcome of ACT’s application to become a University of Specialisation.

The speaking part of my visit starts next week, when I give a 90 minute presentation to Masters and Doctoral students at Spurgeon’s, and then later in the week we move to Lincoln for 9 days, where I will do some preaching as well as conduct two leadership training events. I’m rather looking forward to it. Lincoln Baptist, who are hosting us, have been wonderfully warm in their communication with us, and it will also give us a chance to see a beautiful part of the country.

It hasn’t all been work. We have gone to a few museums (and have dozens more on our radar), have identified some shows we plan to see, have eaten out (and eaten too much) and are lining up dates to meet with several friends from various parts of the world who now live in the UK.

I couldn’t end this post without a comment about our flight here, the new direct flight (all 17 hours and 20 minutes of it) from Perth to London on Qantas’ much hailed Dreamliner. We struck it lucky, in that all cattle class seating comes in clusters of three seats, and Rosemary and I were some of the few who only had two people to occupy those three seats. I was really glad about that, as in spite of Qantas making much of how much extra space they now allocate to economy, in actual fact if you read the fine print you will see that the seats of the Dreamliner are actually marginally narrower than on their other international planes. True, there is a little more leg room between rows… but narrower seats are narrower seats, and you do feel it on a 17 hour and 20 minute flight. So here are my comments on the claims made for the Dreamliner, and my experience…

  • More space in economy seats. Reality, a little more legroom, slightly narrower seats. And clusters of 3 seats are a tad annoying. For couples, a 2-4-2 configuration is nice, but this is a 3-3-3 configuration, which is often awkward (for example, if you are a couple with 2 children). To be fair, the actual design of the seats is good – a definite step up.
  • Better food. Yes, this is a valid claim. The food was actually very good – best airline food I’ve had. And though I didn’t make much use of the snack bar provided, it was nice to know it was there.
  • Better air quality. Apparently a better air filtration system means you arrive at your destination less likely to be dehydrated, and feeling wonderfully fresh. Our experience. Both Rosemary and I had headaches within two hours of take off. Nothing unusual in that for me on long flights, but I had hoped it would be better. I actually had one of my worst ever airplane headaches at the end of this flight, so I don’t know what to make of the air quality claim, but at this stage I’m not buying it.
  • Great entertainment. Slightly larger screens than is usual for economy, but I don’t know who selects the options of what to watch for Qantas, but give me Emirates any day. The selection was the same you find on all Qantas flights, and as I fly Qantas pretty often, I had already watched everything I wanted to. In the end I was reduced to watching the old classic 9 to 5 (I kid you not – I started several other movies in the hope they would catch my interest. They did not.) And that was all I watched in the 17 hour 20 minute flight. Just as well I had some good reading with me.
  • Plenty of room to move around. Ha ha. It’s a small plane – much smaller than you would imagine. It’s all very well to be told to walk around to avoid possible health hazards, but the aisles are narrow, and venues to go to don’t exist. The storage lockers are higher above you than is usual – so it is a little easier to stand up. To be clear – it is easier to stand up, but once you are standing up, there is no place to go.
  • A direct flight saves you the stress of a mid flight change. Yes, can’t argue with that – though around 11 hours into the flight (when I would usually have been arriving in Dubai for the changeover), I felt almost desperate to be able to have a decent stretch and walk, and looked at the flight plan which showed a further 6 hours and 20 minute and felt – well, desperate.
  • The staff have been specially trained and are very helpful. Yes, this struck me as a valid claim. The staff were friendly and quick to respond to requests (I didn’t make any, but saw them respond promptly to others), and after all it is a 17 hour and 20 minutes flight for them as well.

Final verdict – mixed. Rosemary felt that being spared the change at Dubai adequately compensated for the other disappointments. I’m less sure. It was good to have a reduced overall travel time. But my headache was still throbbing 12 hours after landing, and really wasn’t helped by no mid flight break.  We’ve still got the return flight to go, so let’s see what that holds.

Well, that’s a quick update on the sabbatical to date. As always, nice chatting…