A POSTCARD FROM LYME BAY
Next month Robert will be back with the three churches, glowing and refreshed (we hope) after his sabbatical. Meanwhile, I think and plan towards my own, due next year. A bit early, you may feel, but it’s a project I have been working on for some time.
As I write, rocked by the gentle swell of a calm sea, land is nowhere in sight. The satnav tells me Torquay lies twelve miles to the west. All being well, we’ll get there about 7pm. We left the hazards of Portland Bill and its notorious tidal race thirty miles behind us to the east. The sun’s disk never quite burns through the cloud and haze. Even so, its rays are intense.
Aboard Emma, our twenty-six foot sailing boat, we have an engine to drive us onward through the present flat calm, a satnav to guide us, and an autopilot to take the tedium out of steering a straight line for ten hours. Such modern gizmos leave Clare free to doze, and me to write—while keeping a good lookout for hazards, of course.
Not so for the ancient mariners who plied these waters. With no compass but the sun, they made epic journeys. Without the Met Office to give warning of impending storms, they set out with hope in their hearts by sail and by oar. Through salt sea and salt sweat they manoeuvred their fragile craft.
A few navigated the seas around our coasts with a special purpose in mind. They came to island Britain, where the name of Christ was unknown, or intermittently neglected. Their plan—to bring light in place of darkness. To establish beacons of hope in as many places as possible, no matter how remote. To make the God of Love believable.
They were far from the first migrants to make their way to Britain. But they were migrants. People with foreign-sounding names. Roman, some of them, others Celtic or Germanic. The marks of their boats, drawn up on sand or shingle, were washed away long ago. The marks of their faith remain imprinted in our culture. So much of what made and shaped Britain came to us through those venturesome souls. We owe them an incalculable debt.
Their example inspires me. I want to make some of their journeys. To connect afresh with the Spirit who inspired them. To visit places with special associations with the seafaring saints, as well as present-day Christian outposts. I hope to discover ways of re-telling the Jesus story that make sense to bonkers Brexit Britain.
They say that all you need to be able to circumnavigate Britain is a suitable boat and three months to spare. The first, I have. The second is in sight. Land ahoy!
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 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 .