As I write Val and I are into our third week back after our sabbatical time and what I have learned is that it will take a while to catch on everything – and I don’t just mean emails!!
Three months is quite a long time in some respects. All kinds of things move on and all manner of things happen – so be patient with me.
From our point of view, we had a wonderful time travelling, on retreat, visiting friends and former colleagues and just being able to spend time together.
I have already said to some that, for me, one of the highlights was waking up on Good Friday and realising that for the first time in thirty-one years I didn’t need to go out and take any services and so had time for my own personal reflection and worship.
This sabbatical time was twice postponed and it was much needed. We had both been feeling physically and spiritually exhausted. It has been over fifteen years since my last one so we had plenty to think back and reflect upon.
The early part of our time away was spent in the Canary Islands catching so winter sun and just resting – much sitting around the hotel pool reading and strolls along the seafront. I can’t ever remember sleeping as much! The 24/7 nature of ministry takes its toll.
In February, we set off for North Yorkshire to spend some time with the Christian community at Scargill House. It was a lovely time of spiritual renewal in a beautiful part of the country and God really graciously ministered to us both.
We have been hoping to go to Scargill for a while (encouraged by Andy and Cathy Shearn – who go regularly) and we weren’t disappointed. While we were there the teaching sessions were led by Adrian and Bridget Plass. Some of you will know some of Adrian’s books and he has this amazing gift to move from the hysterically funny to the deeply profound (sometimes in the same sentence). Also, the warden of the community, Phil, is an old colleague from London Diocese so it was great to catch up with him.
For clergy, the lack of time at weekends means that keeping up with friends is difficult so it was wonderful to have those opportunities to renew friendships and spend some time with those we have not been able to see for a while. On the way back from Scargill we visited Arani and Alison in Leeds. Arani was my first curate and looked after the church when I had my first sabbatical. He is now leading a church in North Armley and settled and happy. Amongst others we were also able to stay overnight with Mary and Ray James before coming home.
The following week we headed south visiting family, friends and old colleagues. We also took the opportunity to pay a nostalgic visit to Chelmsford Cathedral where I was ordained.
By the time we got back we were relieved to have some time to spend at home. (Over the sabbatical we drove more than 2000 miles and stayed in twelve different places). During the last fifteen years we have moved twice and on both occasions we had little time to do much sorting out – so in a few weeks at home we were able to spend time sorting through wardrobes, cupboards and boxes. I spent three or four days in my study alone and for several weeks our recycling bin was filled and there were trips to charity shops to make sizable donations!
During this time, I also managed some golf with the aforementioned Mr Shearn.
We spent our final week at Spring Harvest. For those who don’t know, Spring Harvest is a large Christian gathering held at Easter time every year for almost forty years in Butlin’s Holiday camps, most recently at Minehead and Skegness. It runs over three weeks and about 25,000 people attend over that time. We were at Minehead for the week immediately after Easter and enjoyed being amongst about 6,500 Christians for times of worship, teaching and relaxing.
One of the most encouraging things for us was to see the number of children and young people. Talking to one of the youth leaders we heard that there were 700 youngsters aged between fifteen and eighteen that week. There were hundreds of children and young families and when one night in the main adult worship session they asked for all those under thirty to come forward – within minutes the front area was filled and the aisles packed – it was emotional to see it and to pray with them. It was also great to hear stories of what is going on in churches around the country – to share the joys and struggles – and to pray with others (and be prayed for).
And so we are now back. Although it was good to be away from work we did realise that we missed our church family here in the Arden Marches so coming back wasn’t all bad news.
It was a wonderful privilege to have had this time and we are enormously grateful to those who made it possible – so a big and heartfelt thank you to everyone who covered services and meetings, and generally kept things going.
My best wishes to everyone