Sabbatical Reflections - Part One: To be-long, or not to be-long

Tuesday 31st March 2020

Around 11th January, having completed the numerous after-Christmas ‘jobs’ that I didn’t quite get to before the season, I entered my sabbatical, with the words of well-wishers ringing in my ears: ‘Enjoy yourself!’ ‘Have a rest!’ ‘We shall be quite all right without you!’

Although I felt very blessed to have been allowed this 3-month period away from the business and bustle of Circuit life, if I am honest, it also felt as if I was entering a period of exile!

I had some exciting plans: a two week trip to India - as part of the District partnership-building visit; a 5 day visit to the Holy Land - a wonderfully unexpected opportunity; and a quick trip to the Isle of Wight, where I grew up, to reminisce and reflect on my roots. I shall say a bit more about my various journeys in later editions of The Link, but for now, let me try to tell you a little about how it felt as I entered that
period of ‘time out’. How it felt to step away from the life of the churches and the people I have grown to love.

Firstly – Sunday worship. Instead of leading worship 2 or 3 times on a Sunday, preparation for services and sermons was no longer a part of my week. Instead, there was the Saturday evening decision about where to go to worship the next morning. I was only in Taunton for a few Sundays, so I decided I would use those
times to experience worship in some of the other churches of the town. By and large these were good experiences, part of which was the strange freedom of entering a church as a stranger and leaving quietly unnoticed. I reflected on the welcome offered by the churches and chapels of the circuit, and thought how difficult it would have been for a stranger to have left any of them unnoticed!

I found myself wondering what would make me return to this or that particular church – would it be the singing? Or the preaching? Or the worshipful atmosphere? Or would it be the fact that someone had spoken to me and helped me to feel at home?

I would really have liked to have sat among friends in one of our Circuit chapels and be led in worship by one of our Local Preachers – however, it seems you are supposed to distance yourself during sabbaticals, and I never quite plucked up the courage to rebel against this!

Secondly – not knowing how people were faring was difficult. I wanted to pick up a telephone and have a chat to those for whom the churches were particularly praying – and actually, I did once or twice. I found it hard not to drop in on folks for a chat or pop by the Wednesday service, or the Missions quiz, or the Jacket Potato lunch, etc. etc.

After I was back from my travels, I stopped one day to give a lift to a lady from one of our churches as she struggled up the hill with her shopping. ‘What are you doing here?’ she asked. ‘You’re supposed to be on holiday’. ‘Well, I live here’, I replied.

What I’m trying to say is that I missed my communities. For a little while, I didn’t seem to belong. There was a strange feeling of loss, and of isolation from the people who are such a large part of my life.

I’ve been glad to return from my sabbatical – a little early perhaps, and returning to something rather different to what I left.  These are unusual days. Days when the normal routine is set aside for a different pace of life. When I suspect that some people may be beginning to miss their communities, and to feel that they are in a sort of an exile from the worship and groups they enjoy being part of.   When they would love to be faced with a choice of which church to attend for Maundy Thursday, or Good Friday, or Easter Sunday.

Our churches and neighbourhood groups are doing all they can to ensure that we have access to worship and news, prayer support and practical help. Chris has set us up with a Circuit Facebook pageI do not really know much about Facebook communities – however, willing to learn, I tried to join tonight.  My request is pending!

But one community we do all belong to and can always be part of, is the praying community.  Wherever we are, however we’re feeling, whether we meet or not, we are bound together in Christ through our love for him and for one another.

Tonight (22nd March) I lit a candle in my window as we had been requested to do by Churches Together in England.  A candle to represent hope in Christ, and a prayer for all those who are fearful or suffering, not just here in Taunton, but across the world.

In Christ there is no east or west,
in him no south or north,
but one great family bound by love,
throughout the whole wide earth.

Please keep in touch with one another by phone, or email, or however you can.  Please make sure you let us know if you need anything, and as you have been held in my prayers whilst I have been away over the last 3 months, so you will continue.

God be with you