By the time you read this, we will be standing on the cusp of February with Candlemas just behind us and Ash Wednesday and Lent opening up before us.
I love the Feast of the Presentation. In it, we are invited as we remember the infant Jesus, presented to God by His parents, in the Temple, to stand on as on a hilltop: looking back to the celebration of the Incarnation, of God amongst us at Christmas; and to commit ourselves to taking out His life, love and light to our communities. We are also look on across the valley to the city, to His Passion and Resurrection, and wonder at how we will share that Gospel within the communities we are set and called to serve.
On a personal note, I am also looking back. I have served amongst you for 10 years. We have journeyed a long way as Christian communities. It’s not all been easy and we have had to walk through some challenging times. We have also seen God do some fantastic things in His church and in our lives during that time too.
Every decade, as part of our continued development as clergy, we are invited to take Extended Study Leave. It used to be called a Sabbatical. The Bishop grants a period of 12 weeks leave from ministry to rest, renew, study, develop our skills and have space to read and if appropriate write too. Some of you will know that I had accepted this offer in the autumn of last year, but along with the rest of our lives, the Coronavirus pandemic put paid to that.
I will be stepping away from public ministry from 1st February 2021 and returning to ministry on 2nd May 2021.
I will be doing a number of things during that time:
I will be training as a Mental Health First Aider for both young people and adults. I will be qualified for three years and i hope to be a resource to the wider community including our local schools.
I will be reading around a theology of mental health. Scripture doesn’t talk much about mental health as we would recognise it, but there are some strong strands to begin to think theologically about it.
I will be reading and writing about silence as a spiritual discipline and it’s importance for us in a noisy 21st Century world and our mental wellbeing; and
I hope to take an 8 day silent retreat in Wales.
I will also be spending time at home with my lovely family and through all of the above, I hope to rest and be renewed.
As the time stretches out in front of me I feel a sense of bereavement setting in - not being part of a regular worshipping community, not partaking in the Lentern pilgrimage of prayer and worship, not preaching, not presiding at the Eucharist. But the time before me is a pilgrimage too, and I know God will speak and teach me much through it.
In my absence you will all continue to be ministered to and supported by Sam and the Ministry Team and our fantastic Parish and Church Wardens. Please pass day to day parochial matters to Sam or Elaine, and keep Sam in the loop about pastoral matters so he and others can support you.
Whilst for periods of time I will be at home and some times I hope to be away, I know you will respect that space, but please don’t treat me or the family as social lepers (pandemics excepting!) - if you see us out and about, do stop and say hello if you are able to.
I hope and pray you are renewed during the Lenten pilgrimage. As you journey, please pray for us during that time too, so that when we meet again during the Easter season, we might rejoice at the new things God is doing in each of our lives.