As many of you know, I am on sabbatical from 5th March until 5th June. What you might not be fully aware of, however, is what this means and entails.
With its source in the Hebrew word, shabbat i.e. Sabbath, a sabbatical is a rest from work, or a break, often lasting from two months to a year. Within the Methodist Church the period is three months and it is first awarded to ministers after they have served for ten years and then, subsequently, every seven years. (You might recall that I enjoyed my first one in 2011).
Sabbaticals are increasingly being used by different types of organisations because they are recognised as a way to re-energise people by allowing them to explore a different aspect of their work or undertake some form of study. Few organisations, however, make them compulsory as the Church has done for ordained ministers.
Sabbaticals were introduced, and made compulsory, to help to prevent burn out and reduce stress amongst presbyters and deacons. They are also a part of all ministers' continuing development; a time for refreshment and renewal, a time to be able to hear the still small voice of God. A sabbatical is understood by the Church to be a gift from the Church to all presbyters and deacons. It is intended that during this 'time of grace' ministers will do something different which will inform and perhaps re-enthuse them in their ministry.
My hope and intention for the coming months is very much to enjoy time with my family and friends, to return to the church community I spent some time with during my last sabbatical (returning also to questions that emerged for me during that time) and to prepare myself (as much as I can) for Superintendency - something that, subject to Conference, I am to embark upon in September 2018.
Needless to say, I am looking forward to my sabbatical. It will be strange not completing the journey through Lent, Holy Week and Easter with you. It will be difficult to cut myself off from both church communities of which I am a part for such a length of time - not knowing what is happening in your lives, not being able to respond to situations that usually I'd be called to enter into. It isn't forever though and one thing I know from past experience is that a sabbatical tends to fly by.
In a strange quirk of fate, it seems that, at Martin Way at least, I won't be missing too many meetings! The way my sabbatical has fallen this time means that it sits neatly between the round of meetings that takes place early in the New Year and the next one in early summer. It seems that those of you who attend and participate in such meetings will enjoy a kind of sabbatical yourselves. Enjoy your free evenings - perhaps use them to do something different, to re-energise yourself, to spend time listening for that still small voice of God, that, when we meet again you too will have been re-enthused ready for all that lies ahead as we seek to respond to and serve God in this place. Please know that, in the meantime, you will continue to be held in my prayers as I am more than aware that I, and my family, will be in many of yours.
With every blessing,