So I’ve just finished my last bit of ‘normal work’ for the next three months, and am about to head off on Sabbatical until 17th July. It’s a very strange feeling indeed! The last few days have been frantically busy tying up all the loose ends before heading off, and it’s only really now that I’m having a chance to pause and think about it. And as I do that there are a few thoughts and feelings uppermost in my mind.
- Gratitude! I am so grateful to a generous diocese, wonderful colleagues, and a hugely supportive church family who together have made it possible for me to take this time off. The list of people who are shouldering extra burdens while I’m away is too long to include here, but I must mention our superb curate Tom who is hugely stepping up into new roles.
But even more than to the diocese, Tom, and the rest of the family at St. Mary’s, I am so grateful to the Lord of the Sabbath, who wonderfully invites his people to rest. What a generous God who includes periods of rest in his commandments for how his people should live.
- Tiredness. Or perhaps I should say exhaustion. I am absolutely shattered! Partly from the last few weeks – who on earth thought it would be a good idea for me to be getting ready for Easter and finishing off everything else in readiness for sabbatical at the same time? The last week in particular has been full of very long days and not all that much sleep, so i’m not entirely surprised that I’m feeling it now, nor that I seem to have caught a stinker of a cold.
But there’s a deeper tiredness than that. I’ve been trying to serve St. Mary’s for very nearly ten years now, and I’ve definitely felt myself flagging and getting a bit stale in these last couple of years, and in these last few months in particular it feels that I’ve somewhat run out of steam. I’m really praying, and I’d value your prayers too, that this time off will enable me to come back with way more energy, and a much fresher and more enthusiastic approach to the work that I love so much, and a closer walk with God.
- Apprehension. I really don’t know how I’m going to find this time. I’ll be spending two out of every three weeks away from home, and one out of every three weeks on my own. There are so many people (the church family) and things (my coffee machine) that I’ll miss, not least the work that has become so familiar over the years! I suspect that without the routine of daily prayer meetings, service planning, staff team meetings, sermon writing, pastoral visits and so on I’ll feel quite disorientated.
That, I think, is part of why it’s so valuable to have a sabbatical – it’s not just about the rest but it’s also about reconnecting with what it is to simply be a person – a Christian, a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a friend and so on – without it all being about the fact I wear a dog collar from time to time.
This is one of the reasons why I’m still going to be visiting St. Mary’s from time to time on a Sunday – for me to learn, and perhaps for everyone else to learn, what it is for me to simply be part of the family without having any particular role.
- Excitement. Despite the apprehension I am really looking forward to it. Tomorrow morning we’re leaving the house in the hands of a friend and the dog and are heading off to Northumberland for what will simply be a family holiday with some friends. There’s no big agenda here – just to unwind and and enjoy a holiday.
Then in a week’s time, I’m beginning the sabbatical proper with a week on my own, in a hut in a field in the Lake District. I’m excited about lots of time to read, pray and think, whilst taking lots of the form of exercise I enjoy most (fell walking) and getting lots of fresh air.
And I’m excited about the prospect of several weeks like that – some in a tent by myself, some in a cottage with family and friends, and some back home in my study. I’m excited that several weeks like that – eleven to be precise – should enable me to come back to St. Mary’s refreshed, re-energised, and re-envisioned for another decade of ministry.
Right – I think I’d better go and get packed!