In July 1988 a man called Barry Rogerson, then Bishop of Bristol put his hands on my head and ordained me into the clergy of the Church of England. I was ordained with the name Stephen which was fine except I’m Stewart and maybe that’s why it has taken me 25 years to have a sabbatical. (Stephen Jones has had all the other ones I might have taken with apologies to any real Rev Stephen Jones’ who have had sabbaticals.)
But what exactly is a sabbatical? Is it just a middle class word for a long holiday and if so why not just say a long holiday? Or is it extended study leave with holiday as well? For me it has been a much needed escape from the tyranny of email, telephone, meetings, people and sermon writing and a chance to simply find me again. Not all of what I do is a tyranny but after 25 years of trying and often failing to preach the gospel, lead a number of churches, work for the past two Archbishops ( new one not included. I know nothing about him except what I read) and countless other stuff that clergy do I was in a place that felt more tyrannical than blessed. So the sabbatical began on Jan 1st 2013 and what an oasis it has been. God bless the diocese of Birmingham, my staff colleagues and the people of St Martin in the Bull Ring for allowing me this gift.
It began badly. My Mum died on Christmas Day so a trip to Scotland for the funeral took up week one. I thought about getting funeral cards for the guests to feel better. Spent quite a lot of time working through my emotions as I was not close to my Mum but she was my Mum. Still not really sorted that one out but working on it. The plan for the three months ahead of me was to spend time reflecting on preaching (which I have done and which will make up future sabbatical blogs) but often found myself being led down other paths particularly thinking on discipleship both personal and church. Again possible future blog to explain more.
The one thing that has been wonderful throughout this sabbatical has been the chance to read. I am a keen but slow reader and having the time to sit and read without thinking I have to rush off somewhere has been brilliant. I have rediscovered my love of fiction, biography and theology and I have said to myself I must not let this pleasure get lost in an over busy diary when I re-enter the world of ministry with all its joys and terrors. Add to this a chance to go to the cinema more often has been food for the soul like no other. It has allowed me to be me and with the time to reflect I have actually concluded I quite like me faults, foibles and all.
So what is a sabbatical? For me a place to find who I am and that isn’t Stephen but Stewart.
Image: Untitled by Smithsonian Institution on Flickr