Letter from our minister - Rev. Robert Barthram

Dear Friends,


Last month I wrote a piece in the newsletter about my forthcoming sabbatical. It seemed best to include it then so that if anything was still unclear people could ask. Sabbaticals are not common so questions are natural and there have been some interesting ones. It is always hoped that the three months break from the routine of church life will be of benefit to the minister and ultimately to the church as well.


Recently all three churches in our Reading Group have had their A.G.M.s, a looking back over the past year of the churches' life and looking forward in hope to where the Spirit will lead us in the coming year.  An A.G.M gives the opportunity to review what the church we belong to has done over the past year and to take a greater responsibility for what we may do in the future, A thought I would like to leave you with for these three months and I believe so important for the church is summed up the word belonging.


The truth is our modern culture does not always encourage belonging.  The church is seen as outdated and outmoded.  Nowadays it is often projects rather than organisations, relationships rather than institutions, short term enthusiasm rather than life-long commitment.  Yet we believe God wants us to express and grow in our faith, in community.  A community where there are committed relationships to one another, where we give and receive from one another and where we commit ourselves to belong to God, to belong to his church with the emphasis on our responsibilities and service.


We all have a choice to make: there are three options.  We can attend worship occasionally and be a welcome visitor. We can attend regularly and feel that we belong without making any clear commitment.  We can actively commit ourselves to this local church and enter into a new relationship of love.  


Choose the third or lose out. What I have learnt over the years is the more we give the more we receive, the more we hold back the more we struggle. For we are called by God to be committed to one another and together to serve Christ.

On the 20th May we celebrate the festival of Pentecost when we revisit the birth of the Church and focus on what commitment to Christ and belonging to his Church meant for those first Christians. I hope their enthusiasm and their commitment will be rekindled in your belonging over the next few months.


Yours in Christ,






The dictionary defines a sabbatical as ‘leave granted at intervals for study, travel etc.’ The term comes from the Old Testament word Sabbath where every seventh year the Israelites were to cease tilling the land and allow their fields and vineyards to lie fallow, to give the land a rest. The United Reformed Church allows ministers to have a sabbatical of up to three months every ten years.  Methodists tell me they stick more closely to the bible and it is with them every seven years!    


The life of a minister can be rather busy, not leaving much time for study and refection, so we are encouraged to take sabbaticals. It is easy never to do so as there is always something one can see that needs doing and time disappears. Some never do but we are reminded it is good for us and so hopefully the churches we serve. I have taken one sabbatical in over 30 years of ministry and that was 16 years ago. I have finally made time after some prompting to take another and so May to July this year should find me studying.    


In my previous sabbatical, of the three months, the first was preparation and the last reflection with the middle month spent in an ecumenical institute on the edge of Bethlehem, a wonderful experience which had a profound effect on me.  I have fond memories of being lulled off to sleep each night by the rumble of tanks and armoured personal carriers.


I could have done something similar this time but decided that would not be of much benefit, better to do something different.  For the first few weeks an opportunity to read some of the material accumulated last year on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  Then to read and reflect on the question, ‘What should be the Christian response to Islam?’ A question that relates both to my previous month in the Middle East and to several other pertinent issues that are relevant to us in Reading today.  I however could not quite manage to resist the pull of the Holy Land and there will be one week in Jordan and taking Viv with me this time but we have to wait for the cooler desert weather in October.


My sabbatical begins on the 8th May and I hope it will be an enriching experience equipping me to serve the churches in the Reading Group .