I got back from my Extended Study Leave (often called ‘sabbatical’) in mid-August. I’m enormously grateful to everyone who enabled my time out to happen by stepping up to the plate in my absence - especially to Lena and the rest of the staff team, and to our church wardens Simon and Pete. I had no doubt they would do a magnificent job – and I gather that’s just what they (and others) did!
I had various aims over the 3 months. First, rest. After 19 years’ ordained ministry, it was good to have some time out. Family life meant it was still fairly busy (at times I sympathized with the recently retired who say “how did I ever find time to work?!”), but not having any early morning or evening meetings was great and not having any deadlines was very relaxing.
Second, refreshment. Having lived in lots of different places as an adult, many of my good friends are scattered around the country. As a vicar, I don’t get many weekends off, so seeing those friends is difficult. My sabbatical gave me opportunity to meet up with those long-term friends, which I found really enriching.
Third, spiritual renewal. I really appreciated being able to spend a longer time than normal praying and reading the Bible and devotional books, and listening to relevant podcasts etc. I deliberately focused on the person of Jesus and prayer in my reading. I started journaling and writing out prayers – something I hadn’t done before but found helpful. I also started using the Psalms as a springboard for prayer, which opened up my prayer life way more than I imagined it could (although you might think that would be obvious!).
Another aspect of the spiritual renewal was visiting other churches around Southampton – Anglican, Baptist, Pentecostal, FIEC, Pioneer, Independent – many of them led by friends from Southampton Christian Network. A highlight was visiting one church where the sung worship was in a mixture of English and Hindi.
Fourth, research. The ‘study leave’ aspect of my time out was researching how we can help people to finish life well. I had a fascinating time reading books (Christian and secular) and chatting with a variety of practitioners and academics. I even chatted with a death doula!
The research will hopefully help me in my future ministry – and there’s the possibility of trying to get a book published on the topic so that others can benefit, too. I’ve written an outline and introduction so far, and will try to carve out time to keep writing over the coming months.
Finally, travel. The diocesan guidelines encourage people on Extended Study Leave to travel to another part of the world to experience God’s church in action in a different culture – because we have so much to learn from our brothers and sisters overseas. As a family we went to Lebanon for 3 weeks – a once-in-a-childhood experience for our boys. Some of the time we were working at a small school for Syrian refugee children, run by friends of ours – and it was certainly humbling to put a human face on the tragic events in Syria.
If you weren’t able to come to our open house on 1st September and want to find out more, do ask one of us!
What now? It’s good to be back, and I’m enjoying catching up with people!
But I shouldn’t just slip back into my normal routine. The challenge now is to embed what I’ve learned on my sabbatical into daily ministry here. You may well also have insights into this next stage of my ministry. My absence for a few months may have given you fresh perspective on my, and other people’s, gifts. What would you like me to do more of over the coming years? What do you think I shouldn’t spend so much time doing? I’d love to hear what you think – do pray about it and let me know!
Let’s look to our loving Heavenly Father to keep leading us on as his people in this place over the coming months and years.