Rev'd Frank Gimson shares his sabbatical experience -
It has now been a month since I returned from sabbatical, and already it is fading back into the past. Now as I sit here at my desk, I reflect on my time away and seek to get my thoughts in order. Those three months were a good interlude for me, giving me the opportunity and space to stop, to reflect - and to catch up with myself!
There is an old story about an explorer in Africa. He was setting out deep into the interior. So he hired the porters he needed and off they went. On the first day they set a good pace and travelled many miles. The explorer was in good spirits. If they kept it up, he had high hopes of making very good time. However, next day the porters refused to set out at all. Despite all he could do, they would not budge. "Why won't you go on?" he asked. The porters explained. They had travelled too fast the previous day. Now they had to stop, to allow their souls to catch up.
In a very real way, this was my experience during my sabbatical. I was letting my soul catch up. As one friend put it, in the words of scripture, ‘like a hut in a cucumber field’. I became increasingly aware of the pace of life that we set ourselves. All too often this is self-imposed, as somehow we have picked up the notion that we matter for what we do, that we are measured by our level of activity.
Naturally this raises the question: is all this activity really necessary? Do we really need to live life in this way? Indeed: is this actually what God intends for us? This is not to decry work or devalue employment - but a reminder that it is not the be all and end all of existence.
So I began to explore the idea of making space: space for my soul to catch up; space to find God; and – most importantly – space to allow God in.
God calls his Church to reflect a different approach to life than that we see in the hectic world around us. Too often we are exceedingly bad at actually putting that into practice. Perhaps, though, together we can try to make space in our lives and in our churches: to stop, let our souls catch up, and so find more space for God in our lives.
Rev'd Frank Gimson Sabbatical Announcement Sermon
Team Service – 27 February 2011: A Growing and Deepening Faith
I don’t know about you, but one of the ways that I like to relax and unwind is to read a good book – something I can get into. Although that does of course beg the question: just what is a good book? Obviously this will vary for each of us. But for me: there are certain genres I prefer, and authors that I know and like and get on with; but then occasionally I’ll take pot luck based on the title or the blurb on the back. Most often, though, with a new author I’ll go by recommendation, read reviews, that sort of thing.
Because what I really don’t want is to find that I’ve started reading a book that is dull, or going nowhere, or is badly structured with banal plot-lines and one-dimensional characters. I want a book that engages me, carries me along, has other stories skilfully interwoven, makes me care what happens to the characters, keeps me engrossed to the end, and then leaves me wanting more!
To do this it will need its ups and down or twists and turns, when things go well or badly; it will need to progress and have purpose, and to grow deeper and richer as the story develops. And it has to ‘ring true’. One thing that does tend to impair my enjoyment is those unnecessary inaccuracies.
So: where am I going with this? Well, we know it is commonplace today to talk about “our” story, or “my story”. Our life is a story, hopefully a good one, and a part of other larger stories: those of our family, our community, our society. In much the same way our churches have their own particular story - the history of the visible presence of the people of God in our communities, with all its tales of faith and growth and movement. And then of course each one of us has the story of our own faith - the on-going chronicle of our life and relationship with God. For - as we all know - this is what being a member of the Church is all about: our ever-progressing, ever developing life as a part of God’s own family. And there is always so much more to know about God, our relationship with him, and our calling to be his. Indeed, as we hear in our gospel reading, part of Jesus’ final discourse, we have his own promise that he has ever more to disclose: ‘the Spirit of truth..,’ he tells us, ‘will guide you into all the truth’ (John 16:13 NRSV).
And so what I want to ask you this morning is: how is your story going? How is the story of your relationship with God? How’s it going? Do you indeed have that sense of the Spirit of God truly leading us deeper into God, and into ever new and glorious truths? Not at all times, of course, for no doubt our story has its highs and lows, its mountain tops and dark valleys.
But overall: is your story, your relationship growing and deepening? Is it progressing; is it enthralling and exciting you? Does it make you want to delve ever deeper and explore still further? Is it interesting, engaging, engrossing? Are we aware of the Spirit of God illuminating our lives together and individually? Or has perhaps that relationship somehow got bit stuck, wandered down some spiritual cul-de-sac, or just become static and ceased to grow? Are you, as it were, going over and over the same chapter, been distracted into a sub-plot, or simply lost the thread?
Of course if we are being really honest, this getting stuck happens to all of us some of the time - and perhaps more often than we would care to admit. We can all too easily get stuck in a rut and cease to grow. We are always in danger of forgetting that our faith is about a growing, loving relationship with our heavenly Father - and start thinking it’s just about a set of rules to follow or principles to keep.
And that is one of the reasons why it’s so very important for us to be part of a community, a Church community, and for that Church community to be part of the wider family of God. For it is here that we can support and encourage one another to grow together in our faith; here we can remind ourselves that we are called to be life-long learners developing, growing, moving forward in our ever-fuller relationship with God. Here we can be challenged to face up to the needs and realities of such a living relationship. Here also we can put in place ways to remind ourselves of that necessity to grow; and to provide ourselves with opportunities to do that - both for our whole Church family and for each one of us as individuals.
Let me give just three examples locally.
My first is personal. As most of your will have heard, after Easter I’m taking what is called Extended Ministry Development Leave (otherwise known to you and me as a sabbatical). Why a sabbatical? Well: this is a time both for study and listening to God, and I will be doing that, and for rest and refreshment – and I shall be doing plenty of that too. As clergy our work patterns and pressures bring particular demands and strain, and we need a time like this, just now and then, to restore and re-focus ourselves. The alternative (and we’ve seen it happen) is a build up of stress until work suddenly has to stop. And that is in no-one’s interest. So this is an opportunity provided by the wider Church for my own well-being, growth and development.
So quite what will I be doing? I will indeed be reading. Over the past ten years or so, I have accumulated quite a number of books about faith, ministry, and the life of the Church that I really do want to read but simply haven’t had the time. This is reading aimed just at deepening my own faith and understanding rather than towards any specific goal. Alongside this I shall take the opportunity to spend time aside in quiet, reflection and prayer as I seek to think about my story so far and renew my understanding of what God is asking of me in life. I ask for your prayers as I do this. (10th May - 9th August 2011 inclusive)
My second example is about opportunities for each one of us to continue to grow in, reinvigorate and deepen our faith. Because we all need to study and to grow if we are to know more of that fullness of life we have been promised. We need this both as individuals and as a Church, a community of God’s family. Now in a couple of weeks it will be Lent, a particularly good time to do this. Lent, of course, has always been a time the Church has set aside for study, for prayer, for spending time together or as individuals simply to be with God, in a commitment to try and get to know him better.
So here in the Team we have put together a variety possibilities for us to learn and explore together over these weeks. These range from a ‘Voyage around the Bible’; a York Course series of discussions entitled ‘Rich Inheritance - Jesus legacy of Love’; some ‘Meditations at the foot of the Cross’; and a series of talks on ‘Mission’. Details of these appear in our magazines, and there are lists in each of our Churches. I would encourage each one of us to make the most of these opportunities as part of a positive and fulfilling Lent - as we continue to develop and deepen our own understanding of what it means to be part of God’s own family, of what he is calling us to be.
Then my third example is about how we as the local Church here can plan and express our life together - our story here as God’s own people - more effectively and in a more Godly way.
As you have no doubt heard from your Team Council representatives, we are having a Team Vision Day at the end of next month. This day is open to us all, as a time to come together and explore how our experience of faith can translate into a vision for mission and ministry across our Team.
At this day we will be looking at: what our priorities are; what our vision should be; what it is that excites us, encourages us and is important to us – and from that, we hope, a sense of the right way forward for us together. My prayer is that quite a number of us will be there – to catch a sense of where the Spirit is trying to lead us. So do come if you can - but if you can’t, then please do talk to and share you thoughts with someone from your parish who will be there.
So there we have it. We are, each one of us, in this wonderful, exciting, living relationship with our loving heavenly Father. He is calling on us to deepen our understanding of him and of his ways, to get to know him better and more abundantly, so that we can love him ever more fully and serve him yet more effectively. This means that we are called to carry on exploring, growing, learning, delving ever deeper into the immeasurable riches of life with God. As we heard earlier: ‘All that the Father has is mine,’ says Jesus. And: the Spirit ‘will take what is mine and declare it to you’ (John 16:15,14 NRSV). Let us grasp this incredible offer with both hands, latch on to it and pursue it – and so learn ever more from him and grow ever closer to him.
And then, I wonder: when the time comes for our story to be told, will it be interesting, engaging, and engrossing - charting a journey ever deeper into the heart of God? Amen.