LETTER FROM OUR MINISTER
It is always good to be able to answer a request. Last year a request was made for a study series on the Reformation, a natural choice with last year being the 500th anniversary, a series which everybody seemed to enjoy. This led to the same series of studies taking place later in the year at St Andrew’s.
Towards the end of our meetings at St Andrew’s another request was made. Last year the series very much drew on Martin Luther, using an excellent booklet produced by the URC. However our Reformed Tradition does not look back to him but to the reformer John Calvin. So much of what we believe as a Church and the nature of our church life (such as Elders) is due to the changes he made to the Medieval Church, as he returned to the teachings of the Bible. A request then for a second series of Bible Studies on the Reformation but one based more on what helped create our church in both beliefs and practice.
This request did set me rather a challenge. Where would I find the right helpful material? There are lots of lengthy books on the subject but where would be the right sources for discussion? When one is stuck usually the best thing to do is ask for help:I did and our URC General Secretary John Proctor came up with a suggestion, which led to what I hope will be very helpful material. It comes from one of our sister churches, The Presbyterian Church in Canada and it looks at what it calls the five ‘watchwords’ of the Reformation.
We will meet on five Friday mornings, in the Vestry, beginning at 10.30am with a cuppa and finishing around 12noon. We will meet on the 1st, 3rd and 5th Fridays of October and November, that is the 5th and 19th October and the 2nd, 16th and 30th November. Whether you have been to similar groups before or not I would encourage you to be part of this one. Don’t think it is for just others. The purpose is to learn from the past to equip us better for the present and the future.
MESSAGE FROM REV. ROBERT BARTHRAM
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 reflection, 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 .