On new paths (Monday-Tuesday, May 12-13, 2014)

I went out for a run on Monday evening in Cambridge, England. I turned right as I went out the gate of Westminster College, and set out on Madingley Road. I can’t actually tell you what direction I was going. I usually rely on my GPS watch to create a real-time map as run, but it seems to be having difficulty making adjustment to its new environs. I only had a vague idea of where I was headed, but was hopeful I could find my back to my home away from home. I also felt that if I got truly lost, I could stop and ask for directions.

This seems an apt metaphor for these early days of my sabbatical. I have thought about this gift of time for months, and worked on plans. But I am still headed down a new path. I have never done this before. I am aware of moving into unknown territory, and of the fact that I have already received so much help and encouragement as I head out.

The United Church of Canada has had a clergy sabbatical policy since 2006. It allows every minister who is in a continuing pastoral relationship with a congregation for five years or more to take a sabbatical of at least 3 consecutive months. I am combining the sabbatical leave with my annual vacation. I stepped away from my duties at Trinity United Church in Oakville, on May 1, and will return after Labour Day. The congregation, and individual members have been very supportive of my sabbatical hopes.

For the first full week of May I helped lead a retreat for 13 people who are in the Ontario Jubilee Program in Spiritual Formation and Direction. We were at the Five Oaks Centre near Paris, Ontario. I was able to begin each day there with a 6:30 a.m. run, following a route I had already explored with my car. The path I ran tonight, leaving from the College gate, was all new to me.

Westminster is a centre for learning that serves the United Reformed Church, formerly the Presbyterian Church in England. There is a foundation (The Chesahunt Foundation) attached to the college which provides support for clergy sabbaticals. Thanks to their generosity, I am in one of the oldest university towns in the world, carrying a card that names me as a visiting scholar. I look forward exercising the privilege I have been offered, to explore in the libraries of the other colleges.

I am also invited to take my meals in the college dining room. At lunch and dinner on Monday, and for Tuesday’s breakfast I sat at table with faculty and students, and was invited in to the conversation of the community. I met a pastor from New Zealand who is here to work on her D. Min. thesis on the topic of multi-culturalism in her denomination, the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand. I have also met several students in different stages of preparation for ordained ministry.

Regular classes have finished for the spring term, and the students are busy finishing projects, and preparing for exams. There is a feeling of hushed, studious urgency here. The students are friendly while at table for meals, but they also do not dawdle- they head back to their work.

The reflection at Tuesday morning chapel was about the rhythm of work, and rest, of time to abide in God’s presence, and time to move, and learn, and grow. I may not know exactly where the paths here will take me, but I have the growing sense that I am in a good place.

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