I had the privilege of taking a Sabbatical along with holidays from July to October 2022. It had been delayed by four years due to moving station, caring for the family and covid, so it was great to finally have an extended period of leave after fourteen years on circuit and a fair amount of trauma due to illness! The editor of the Methodist Newsletter asked me for a piece for the December 2022 issue, and this is what I wrote…
A poorly-timed dose of covid on the first week back from a lovely sabbatical has given me space to reflect on the months that have just passed. The three aims of my sabbatical were to ‘Rest’ together with family and friends, to discover a ‘Rhythm’ of daily life that works for this season, and to ‘Refocus’ my leadership and calling.
An early discovery, which in truth I already knew, was that extended family holidays in a touring caravan are rarely restful when young children are involved! But, as the days passed and beautiful and fun places were visited, some of that auld background anxiety over the responsibilities of parenthood and pastoral care, weekly service prep, leadership decisions and the brokenness of the world began to lift.
The old adage of the urgent crowding out the important had become true in my life, and a complete cessation of work allowed me to see where I had been wasting time and filling it with activity that added little to our community of faith or my family. The challenge now is to stick with a rhythm of prayer, family, rest and work that brings life.
One particular joy has been rediscovering reading, having cancelled Netflix and committed to leaving my phone in the kitchen at night in order to curtail the never-ending scroll. The net level of unread books on my shelves has reduced – though not by as many as I might have imagined. Sometimes I set myself unrealistic goals and need to be content with achieving a portion rather than the whole, and enjoy the time spent doing it.
As the weeks passed by, I was struck by how easy it is to remove oneself from Sunday worship, and therefore from the whole life of a congregation. How easy it could be to lapse in membership of a church, your name moved to the Congregational Register, and then removed when new leadership doesn’t know who you are. ‘Quiet quitting’ is not a post-pandemic trend confined to the workplace. And while church systems and leadership should do their best to stay connected with folks, Acts 2:42-47 suggests that we grow (in faith and numerically) by meeting often to worship, moving in the Spirit’s power, and sharing resources, communion and meals together.
Through years on circuit, persevering the pandemic, and now a sabbatical, I have become more and more convinced of Wesley’s focus on putting people into smaller groups – Everyone needs a community to belong to, an intergenerational family on mission that prays, eats and goes together, helping one another and our neighbours to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’.
Visiting other congregations in the town, attending some larger Christian gatherings and spending time with good friends, brought great encouragement and joy. However, being absent from my own community of faith gradually became an ache that I am glad to relieve – it’s good to be back!