The ancient halls of Cambridge University in England will welcome a new student next week.
Pastor Todd Arnold of Shepherd of the Pines Lutheran Church begins his three-month sabbatical in England to study the life of Christian apologist author C.S. Lewis.
Arnold's wife, Kathy, and their three children, Emily, Nathan and Tim, have joined their father on his journey.
"I still can hardly believe we get to do this," Arnold said, two days before the plane would take the Arnolds to greener shores.
The trip was made possible through a grant from the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program.
"It is a once-in-a-lifetime blessing," he said. "I have been told that 1,000 ministers apply."
Several years ago, Arnold spoke with a minister who was headed to Germany on sabbatical.
The grant pays the church's expenses while their pastor is away, and a stipend for the pastor to do whatever would "renew and refresh you; what makes your heart sing."
"Wow," Arnold thought, when he read the grant description.
In January 2006, he ran across an article about the Lilly grant program in a church publication.
He and Kathy talked it over and that winter the family spent many evenings preparing their application.
Arnold had read "Mere Christian," Lewis' defense of Christianity.
"We read all of the Narnia books as a family," Arnold said. "I thought, I wish I had time to read more of his books and study his life."
Lewis grew up as a Christian in Ireland but later denounced Christianity.
Lewis attended Oxford with J.R.R. Tolkien, author of "Lord of the Rings."
While at Oxford, Lewis became a Christian again and wrote prolifically in defense of the faith.
He accepted a post, teaching Renaissance and Medieval literature at Cambridge, in 1955.
Arnold is fascinated by Lewis' story.
In May, the Arnolds mailed their grant proposal for Todd to study C.S. Lewis and for the children and Kathy to study British authors, history and botany -- a dream trip for a home-school mom.
Only about 100 grants were awarded.
"I told friends we had a one-in-ten chance," Arnold said.
The phone call came in late September from the Lilly Foundation and left the whole family feeling elated.
C.S. Lewis once taught in Cambridge, so Arnold's independent-study sabbatical will begin at the university.
Arnold will mentor pastoral candidates at the Westfield House Seminary of Evangelical Lutherans near Cambridge and attend an international conference on preaching techniques that happens to be taking place on the Cambridge campus.
The family will stay in a wing of The Old Porch House, a country manor built in 1600 during the reign of Elizabeth I.
"The kids are looking forward to the airplane ride, playing in the grass, and seeing the sights," Arnold said.
He will make time to go with them as they tour the sites where Beatrix Potter wrote "The Tale of Peter Rabbit," Shakespeare's birthplace, Sherwood Forest, the site of "The Secret Garden" and Robert Louis Stephenson's home in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Then, the family will spend time during the third month with close friend Graham Jackson and his family. Graham and Kathy met at an international Scouting conference when they were teenagers. The two remained pen pals and Graham surprised Kathy when she and Todd married in 1988. The families have been fast friends ever since.
Arnold will wrap up his studies of Lewis at Oxford during the last two weeks of the trip.
They will stay in a converted dairy farm called Kingfisher Barns in the village of Abingdon.
Arnold thinks the Lilly Foundation chose his application because it is a trip from which the entire family could benefit.
Todd Arnold will have a weekly blog on the Payson Roundup's Web site, payson.com, beginning next week. Click on Your Roundup and read "Arnold Family England Sabbatical."
In Pastor Todd Arnold's absence, the congregation of Shepherd of the Pines will be ministered to by Larry Bell. Bell was a minister in Champagne, Ill. He has a service ministry called EPIC that ministers to inner-city churches in St. Louis, Mo. Bell will be staying in the Arnold's home until they return in mid-July.