As I write this letter I am very close to beginning my Sabbatical Leave which begins on the 29th July. My return to work is on Sunday 6th October which will be our Harvest Festival. It is a strange feeling preparing for a prolonged absence from the church and parish, especially after 25 years when you feel you are leaving all you have worked towards in the hands of others! A sabbatical is good if only just for that. It is very easy to begin to believe that you are indispensable, when none of us are. St Augustine’s will continue very well in my absence, just as it functioned perfectly well before I came here. It is an important truth to grasp and learn. It will be my 3rd sabbatical since I came here, and the other two were very important in reinvigorating me for my ministry here, and on neither occasion did St Augustine’s fall apart without me! While that being a little blow to my ego it was also a timely reminder that it is God who is in charge of things not me or anyone else. Other clergy I speak to have told me that they have never had a sabbatical because it would not be practical for them to be absent from the parish for so long. My own experience is that it renews me for the years ahead, and helps make my ministry richer.
My first sabbatical, in 2001, was a real eye opener to me to just how important it is to stop and step back for a while in order to be refreshed and renewed. Pilgrimage was the key theme to that sabbatical and I visited Rome and Assisi and walked the Pilgrims Way from Winchester to Canterbury, it was a very important time in my life. On my last sabbatical I intended to write but on stopping realised I was totally exhausted and, in fact, mainly used the sabbatical to reassess my style of ministry and pattern of working. I hope I learned from that and that this sabbatical will give me an opportunity to write and pray and be more creative. My plan is to explore and write about meditation and particularly the experience of praying a mantra, which has become a central part of my own prayer life. Initially it may well serve as a basis for next year’s Lenten reflections, so watch this space!
My thoughts and prayers will be with you during my time away, as I hope yours will be with me. See you in the Autumn.