As you read this I will embarking on my sabbatical. The Church encourages all clergy to receive the gift of three months away from their Parishes once every ten years (I have been ordained 12 years). The word sabbatical comes from the ancient Jewish theological concept of Sabbath, which recognises the need for everything in creation to have the opportunity to rest.
Enshrined in creation, we are encouraged to rest one day in seven and one year in seven and ultimately, in the year of Jubilee, after 50 years (following seven sabbatical years), everything is restored to its original owners. This concept is still followed in the farming community where crops are rotated
and land given rest. It is also followed in the academic world where it is recognised that, in order to encourage creative and innovative thought, one needs to be given time away from the normal administration of the University. For clergy a three-month sabbatical is primarily given so that one’s spiritual, emotional and family life can be restored and so be a better and more refreshed Priest at the end of it.
So I am heading off to Egypt on the 6th May, leaving my family and Parish behind for three weeks to spend some time in the desert before travelling to Jordan to see friends and ending up in Jerusalem. Why the Middle East you may ask – not a place many would choose to go! Well, having lived in the Middle East for more than four years of my adult life, it has a special resonance with me. My faith was deeply enriched as a young man living in a Christian community in northern Israel. It was tested as I lived amongst the Jordanian Bedouin doing my doctoral research and then as I spent three years in Iraq at a very challenging period of history. Later as I went back to theological college I wrote about some of the early Christian teachers who lived and worked in and around the Middle East. This fascination has remained with me so it is a real gift to be able to re-connect with that part of the world.
When I return I have the opportunity to go on a couple of retreats in Britain, to go and see friends and very importantly have quality time with my family. One of the challenges of being a Priest with a young family growing up in Burley is that we almost never get to go away for a weekend, something many of us take for granted. So I am looking forward to getting away with Sara and the children, camping or going to the seaside.
While I am gone, we have a number of visiting clergy taking services including two bishops, an archdeacon, the dean of Bradford Cathedral as well as clergy friends such as Steve Proudlove, who is vicar of our neighbouring Parish of Menston. I hope it will be really good to hear different perspectives as they give you fresh insight and perspective. And when I come back, I expect I will have lots of new ideas and vision myself – you have been warned!
I hope the sabbatical will bring new imagination to me and my family, an opportunity to intentionally do things differently and I expect it will add some spice and freshness to all those who are part of the St Mary’s community. If you need any pastoral support over the next three months don’t hesitate to ring the office or contact one of my faithful wardens.