Before I left Holy Island on Friday I went to explore the North Shore Beach. I’d wanted to walk on the north of the island in April but it was too wet so before I left I decided to go and explore. Even though it was a busy day on the Island the North Shore Beach was deserted. It was a beautiful beach which was a real contrast to the village centre and St Cuthbert’s beach.
I really enjoyed the peace of the beach and took time to reflect back over my sabbatical. It gave me time to think about what the themes of the sabbatical had been, what I felt I’ve heard from God, where I’d met with God and what I want to take forward from the sabbatical into life and ministry. It was also great to remember all the fun I and we have had.
After I’d journaled and eaten my lunch I walked on the beach. As I walked I noticed what a different perspective on Holy Island I got from the north shore beach. Through this God spoke me to of how the sabbatical has given me a different perspective on a number of things and how as I prepare to return to active ministry I do so with a different perspective on life and faith. I’ve chosen to use the word different rather than new as I realised that what I have discovered on sabbatical is not something new, I haven’t discovered a new God(!) or faith but a greater, refreshed and therefore different understanding of the God I love and follow.
The sand on the beach was really interesting to walk on as it’s covered and uncovered daily by the ever changing tide. In places the sand is dry as the tide doesn’t reach it, on the edges it’s damp as the tide just touches the edge, there are places where the waves have ribbed it, places where you feel as you are sinking because it is so wet, places where the seaweed crunches under your feet.
Much as I would love life to carry on like it has been on sabbatical forever I know that can’t happen! As I walked on the different sand I experienced what each of them felt like underfoot. I realised that as I return to circuit life in a few weeks time with the different perspectives that I have discovered I will return, over the coming, weeks, months and year, to a number of different joys, challenges and experiences. Some of these will be like the soft sand dry and sandy, some will be hard like the sand on the edge, some will be crunchy and frustrating like the seaweed, some will feel like I’m sinking and some like the sand is blowing in my face. Yet I will carry into then ALL with the different perspectives I have discovered on sabbatical and in the power of the Holy Spirit who is always with me.
Reflecting on this excited me. I am excited to return, to continue to serve God as a minister and to walk in the power of his spirit. Most of all I’m excited to see where God will lead me, my precious family and those I worship with and serve as a minister.
Sabbatical has been such a joy, such a blessing, such a lot of fun. My time on Holy Island helped me to see both what I will take back from this time into ‘normal’ life/ministry and that I’m getting ready to make that return. As I come away I’m looking forward to what will come next and seeing how God will use all I have discovered during this special time.
Since Holy Island we’ve been in York celebrating the silver wedding of our friends Andy and Jo, who I met at Wesley College. It has been a fabulous weekend and it was a real privilege to lead worship at their church this morning, although a bit odd to be back in a clerical collar and at the front after 12 weeks!
If you’ve been reading this blog throughout my sabbatical you’ll know that on the first day I came to Holy Island to begin my sabbatical. I decided that I wanted to come back to Holy Island for a few days towards the end of sabbatical, to reflect on the sabbatical in the place I started. I’m staying in Robert and Jutta’s Cabin again, which is such good play to have as a base in the centre of the village.
It has been great to be here again, the island has been a lot busier in the mornings and early afternoons than in April but once the tide has come in during the late afternoon the island has been so quiet and peaceful. During this time it has been good to share in worship with different parts of the Christian community on the Island, at St Cuthbert’s, the Open Gate and St Mary’s Church.
I spent yesterday writing up the reading, reflecting, praying and thinking I have done during sabbatical about rules, ways, rhythm’s of life and what it might mean for the Methodist Church to adopt a Way of Life. I ended up writing nearly 7,500 words, which was a lot and much more than I thought I would write. Once I’ve edited it and checked it still makes sense I’ll share it here on the blog.
As my sabbatical draws to a close it has been so good to come back here, to remember this is where it all started and to be aware of what a gift it has been and to give thanks for how good it has been. When I was here in April I took the picture below and blogged about how the hay bails represented all the good things that God had in store for me/us and how we would unwrap them at the right time during sabbatical. Being back here has reminded me that I/we have unwrapped so many good things during this time all in the love and goodness of God.
At the same time I know that all the good things God has in store for me/us are not yet all unwrapped. Not least because my sabbatical still has another two and a half weeks to run. I also know that when I return to active ministry God has lots in store, I know that I will continue to unwrap many good things as I hear what God has been doing in Hexham whilst I’ve been away and as I walk together with those I serve into the next stage of the journey serving God.
One of the real joys of being on Holy Island again has been the evening sunset. As promised on Facebook, here are some of the photos I took last night along with the psalm that came to mind as I watched and took photos:
1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. 3 They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. 4 Yet their voice[b] goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
We’ve been back home from Portugal for nearly a week. Since then we’ve had a great weekend with Tara’s family celebrating her Dad’s 80th birthday and I’m now back where I started my sabbatical, on retreat on Holy Island.
Coming back from Portugal the Taize chant, ‘In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful‘ has been very much with me. I am so thankful to God for the time in Portugal, for the gift of somewhere to stay from my parents, for the time as a family, for plenty of sun and lots to do.
In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful, In the Lord I’ll rejoice. Look to God, do not be afraid, Lift up your voices, the Lord is near; Lift up your voices the Lord is near.
In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful, Taize Community.
Rather than using lots of words on this blog about Portugal I thought I would share some of our many photos that we took. Through these I hope to share some of the things from this time that I am thankful to God for.
I’m thankful to God for a great place to stay at Rocha Brava:
I’m thankful to God for good food to share together!
I’m thankful to God for beautiful beaches to play on!
I’m thankful to God for time with my precious family:
I’m thankful to God for All Nations Church who welcomed us and enabled us to be part of their family for 6 weeks:
I’m thankful to God for time to visit wonderful places:
I’m thankful to God that for six weeks my phone only told me in was 20+ degrees and that my next appointment was a long time away! It was so nice not to have to look at my diary.
One of the blog posts I said I’d write was about how this time in Portugal has enabled my relationship with God to change and deepen. As well as reading about ways/rhythms of life on my sabbatical I wanted the chance to refresh my own patterns of prayer and discipleship. This began before we came away to Portugal but has deepened whilst we have been here.
One of the books I read many years ago, 15+ years ago, was Mike Yaconnelli’s Messy Spirituality. [Not with the cover in the picture, this is a 2015 edition updated by his family following his unexpected death in 2003]. Reading the book helped me to realise that not all Christian’s are the same (!), that each disciple will have a different pattern or prayer and that for most of us that will be ‘messy’, not the same everyday and that we will need to meet with God differently at different times and seasons of our lives.
I’ve always held onto the message of the book and since then at different times and different seasons I’ve prayed in different ways, different times of the day and with different frequencies. More recently my Spiritual Director has helped to remind me regularly that feeling guilty that I haven’t kept my current hoped-for pattern of prayer simply isn’t worth it, which has been really helpful.
Since becoming a Dad three years ago, my own prayer life has been through a season very different to any I’ve experience before, which is not surprising as I hadn’t been a Dad before!
My natural time to pray has always been a morning as I like to get up early. A baby however, means that lots of other things happen in a morning, you are trying to learn to balance home and work in a completely new way, a lack of sleep for both parents means that any moment one or the other of you can have to sleep is taken and your mind is filled with so many new experiences, questions, thoughts, anxieties which all make life ‘messy’ amongst all the amazingness of being a parent.
So over the last three years my own times or prayer have been more sporadic, on the move, noisy, less frequent and with very little routine. My reading of the Bible in a consistent way for my own devotion rather than to prepare worship or Bible studies for ministry has been virtually non-existent. This has been my season for the last few years and through this season I have continued to know God and to meet with God. I have felt God speak to me, to reassure me, to encourage me in ministry, to use me to speak to others, to give me words and pictures in pastoral situations which have been channels of God’s grace. I have cried out to God in despair, praised God for his goodness and thanked God for his presence through his spirit. I know God has been there and I’ve been present to God.
Whilst I want to say that my prayer life in these years hasn’t been good enough, hasn’t been what it could or should have been, hasn’t been made up of the ‘perfect’ quiet time each day, or what is ‘expected’ of a minister; I know deep down I don’t need to say those things, it has been what it is for this season, it has been ‘messy’, it may not have been as deep as I would have liked it to be, but it has been real, it has been honest and it has been holy.
I knew however coming into sabbatical that it was time for a new season and pattern of prayer for me, to renew my rhythm for the next season.
For 10 years plus at different times I have used the order for Morning Prayer from Celtic Daily Prayer, published by the Northumbria Community. I decided to go back to using this order each morning and alongside this to read a chapter each from the Old and New Testament. I have also journaled again each time I have prayed.
Setting this time aside has been a real blessing, I have felt much more grounded in my relationship with God and renewed in my Christian faith. It has also given me time each day to be still and to pray for others, particularly the Churches I minister with and those offering ministry during my time away. I felt led to read the books of 1 Samuel and Acts from the Bible and have continued with 2 Samuel and Romans. In these books the story of faith is really prominent, for Saul and Samuel the story of God’s people is central, they come back to it, they share it, it forms their decisions. In Acts the early Church is overcome with the Good News of Jesus Christ, of the power of the Holy Spirit and the transformation this brings to individuals, communities and the world. This Good News forms the basis for their lives, their faith, their Church, their mission and evangelism.
Through these prayers and scriptures, particularly the two opening prayers (from Morning Prayer in Celtic Daily Prayer) I have felt God strip me back from all the complexities of ministry and life and remind me of the Christian faith which is at the core of who I am.
In particular I have been reminded of the overwhelming life-giving love God has for me and the deeply inclusive way that God’s love is for all people, for all the world. That the love God has for me is for all, that the joy of being part of the Church I share in is for all, that the blessings God pours into my life, my family, my ministry are for all.
One thing I have asked of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to behold the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.
Opening Prayer from Morning Prayer in Celtic Daily Prayer, from Psalm 27:4.
To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory.
Declaration of faith from Morning Prayer in Celtic Daily Prayer
Changing my pattern of prayer has undoubtedly renewed my relationship with God, grounded me in him each day and drawn me closer to God. It has given me a want to get up early to pray and left me feeling not ‘right’ on the days real life has meant I haven’t had the time to pray in a morning. Through it I feel completely rested both physically and in God. Through it I have heard God speak about different ideas, blessings, challenges.
As I go home from Portugal in the coming days I want to continue this pattern of prayer, to find time each morning to pray, to read the scriptures, to hold others before God, to listen to God in silence and stillness.
I also want to find time to bring more into the pattern of prayer, maybe to say compline each day, to find time to keep reading theology, to set aside a regular extended time to be with God to listen, read and write. Maybe I’ll even keep blogging! Whatever I chose to add into the pattern, I know it will be different from sabbatical as it will be a different season, it will undoubtedly continue to be ‘messy’.
I hope and pray though that it will build on the pattern I have found during sabbatical and continue to ground me with God and deepen my experience of and love for him.
It will be different because it won’t have a view like this!