Some 40 years ago, I was a student volunteer with the Missions to Seafarers in Fremantle, Western Australia. It was there, as in my mind I thought of what I might do when I returned home after this gap year experience, that the chaplain challenged me to take seriously the call to ordination. I still studied Business on my return to the UK, but that swiftly led to theological college, ordination and for the last 34 years the most fulfilling ministry as deacon, priest and bishop.
This year, I have been given the gift of sabbatical. From 5 August until 6 November, I have three months to live life at a different pace. It is a precious gift, and I am grateful for it and for colleagues who by their hard work will enable it to happen. Please know they, you and the life of the Diocese that we share will be in my prayers.
I am, of course, now regularly being asked what I will be doing, and I have become increasingly confident as the time draws near to say that I won’t be doing a great deal. Sometimes sabbatical can be framed in that way, a project to be completed, an area of study or ministry to be explored, but for me in this season, ‘40 years on’, the opportunity is not to ‘do’ but rather to ‘be’ with the contrast of no email and a diary that is mercifully empty of the routine business of ministry.
I will have the opportunity for holiday, retreat, reading and reflection, and towards the end of my time away for some travel to broaden the mind and explore new contexts as I visit friends in California. I will begin my time by a visit to my hometown of Chelmsford and the church where I was baptised, and I do want to look back and notice God’s guiding hand through the years of life and ministry which stem from that and to be thankful. But it will be important not to stop there.
Forty is a significant number. It is the years that led the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised land, 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness before the beginning of his public ministry, and another 40 days that the church keeps between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension. The nature of our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ is that we are always being called afresh and my desire is to return to my ministry here, among you, refreshed and renewed in that call and in the service and the life we share, as I continue to serve here for these coming years as Bishop of Tewkesbury.
Thank you for this gift of time. Please do hold me in your prayers as I do you in mine.