This weekend, if Covid-19 hadn’t intervened, the Kennedy family would have been following in Captain Cook’s footsteps and exploring the sub-tropical rainforest on the southern shores of the small Tongan island of E'ua (if, perhaps, in a significantly greater degree of comfort than the crew of the Resolution!). Like for so many people, plans had to be changed, but we have much to be grateful for nonetheless, such as the privilege of time together as a family, and also that, rather than having to cancel, we’ve been given permission to defer the majority of our sabbatical activities until next year.
Clergy sabbaticals are normally offered once every ten years in the Oxford Diocese and span three months, allowing the opportunity for retreat, study and rest, and this summer I was extremely thankful for the chance still to spend a month doing some of each of those things. My original plan had been to visit a retreat centre, then to spend a month in Christ Church, Oxford, making use of the libraries and the seclusion to read, before heading off with the family to New Zealand and Tonga. In the end, my Shepherd’s Hut was my end destination both for a time of spiritual re-grouping and a then for a time embarking on some independent study. In addition to spending a few days walking the first half of the Darcy Dalton Way with Emma and our two Springer Spaniels, the furthest that we actually got in our travels was a beautiful week in sunny Norfolk in mid-July.
With things hotting up so quickly in The Branch this summer, Emma found it extremely hard to step back from active ministry. For her to be able to benefit from sabbatical refreshment in 2021, her main learning point has therefore been the real need to grow the team around her so that she can plan for a more complete detachment from the demands of her own role next year.
For my part, though, my intention had been to give a particular focus, in my reading, to exploring some of the ways in which recent advances in neuro-biology and neuro-psychology might help us to understand more of how we are made in the image of God. My hope is that such insights might contribute towards a more holistic sense of who we are and how - in addition to what he has revealed to us in Scripture - a more serious engagement with the way that God has designed our brains could help us to relate better both to him and to one another as human beings.
In practice, the shorter time that I could give to reading this summer proved only enough to get me started. One of the first things that convicted me as I did that, though, was the need for me to seek after God in a new way, using more of the parts of my brain that I often neglect! To my surprise, I therefore found myself reading about Contemplative Spirituality and Centring Prayer, drawing on some of the rich Christian heritage that had previously seemed opaque to me, because its advocates so often use language that can seem impenetrable, if not nonsensical, to someone with a more analytical, scientific bent! As I started to appreciate how insights and concepts from functional brain science could provide a more tangible rationale for embracing them, I found a myself beginning a journey of exploring practices and disciplines that, in the past, I’d struggled to engage with at all.
As I now get back into the more concrete pattern of week-by-week church leadership, helping to keep the 'Building to Serve’ project moving forward, and working with the Staff Team to discern the shape of things to come post-Covid-19, I very much look forward to continuing to deepen the experiences of the last few weeks, strengthening my personal walk with Jesus, and also to broadening my reading so that I can take full advantage of the time that I will have in the second tranche of my sabbatical next year.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
PICTURE OF THE WEEK
The 20,000th meal goes out on delivery!
FAREWELL AND THANK YOU
This weekend we say goodbye to Stuart and Sandra as they move to Dorset to be nearer family. Stuart and Sandra's departure will leave a huge gap following their 38 years attending St. Mary's.
We're so grateful for all they've done - including serving on the PCC, serving on Sunday rotas, CAP volunteering, helping at Remix, lots and lots of cooking and baking (legendary coffee and walnut cake was mentioned!) and of course their incredible commitment to the local schools and prison ministry.
But more than that we'll miss their enthusiasm, encouragement, sincere faiths and sense of fun.
We wish them every happiness and blessing for this new chapter and wonderful times with family, discovering new things. We also hope they get a bit of a rest, but something tells me that they won't stay still for long!
Sandra says, "I know we'll be back from time to time, so it's au revoir, not goodbye. God is good, and we go in his grace, so all will be well."
If you'd like to stay in touch, contact details are available from the church office.
CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR WINNER!
We knew many of the mums from our craft bag families were desperate for a haircut so, partnering with Hair Lounge, we ran a competition for children to nominate their mums for that much needed post lockdown haircut!
Tracey was the very well deserving winner. Her daughter Debi said this:
“My beautiful and amazing mum deserves to win because she’s not only always been my rock, but lockdown has had the additional challenges of cancer treatment, and through everything she smiles, she’s a fighter….she deserves the world”.
Well done Tracey and thank you Hair Lounge - please pray for Tracey that she combats this cancer.
DESERT ISLAND DISCS
We asked Helen, "If you could only take two songs, one book and one luxury item into isolation, what would you go for?"
She not only made some great choices, but also shared with us some handy tips for enjoying time at home.
Jen and Peter visited Keswick fifteen times last week! That’s 2330 miles!
The visit was a virtual one, of course, but it was well worth the twenty or so hours participation. If you have time to spare during this continuing situation, all the morning bible studies and evening talks are available on line free of charge.
Christopher Ash from Tyndale House in Cambridge led the morning bible studies with a variety of speakers in the evening. Truly inspirational! We can really recommend this to you.
Everyone has questions about what life is all about. We believe that everyone should have a chance to share those questions, explore the Christian faith and give their point of view.
Alpha is a place where you can ask those questions in an honest, friendly and open environment.
In recent months at St Mary's, God has been extending our vision to serve the town in an exciting, ambitious and creative way at a time of substantially increasing need for many within our community...
So many people in our community feel the weight of debt, and we are passionate about helping to release anyone we can from a life sentence of debt and poverty. At St Mary's we are working with Christians Against Poverty to bring good news, hope and freedom. If you need support, we'd love to hear from you.