Rachel's Sabbatical Reflection

Sabbatical Reflection

I’m back!  And the first thing I’d like to put on record is my thanks to Dave, a wonderful colleague, and to everyone else who has picked up those responsibilities I was able to put down for a while.

It’s not an easy job to summarise a 3 month sabbatical in a short, readable summary.  I could write a book!  And even if I were to list all the different things I’ve done it would leave out the people I’ve met, the conversations I’ve had, the insights I’ve gained.  But I trust that all of these will bear fruit somewhere along the line in the coming months and years, much of which will be shared through Circuit ministry.  So I’ll settle for a quick tour, using a “Visual Aid”.

(photo of whole picture)

Click on the photos to enlarge.

St Beuno’s

I ended my 3 months with 8 days of silence at St Beuno’s retreat house set in beautiful countryside near the North Wales coast.  It was a time of huge blessings.  On the day I left, someone said I seemed “radiant” - I did indeed feel as though I’d spent time on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus and had borrowed some of his light to rekindle the flame of my soul, perhaps burning a little low after ten years of ministry.  I spent some of my time in the tiny Rock Chapel which has stained glass windows in the colours of the rainbow.  These were my inspiration to draw a “sabbatical window” to give thanks for all I’d enjoyed





It was appropriate that I was inspired by coloured glass, since I’ve spent many hours developing my new hobby of glass fusing.  Basically you cut different colours of glass, arrange them together and then fuse them in a kiln which I have at home.  My biggest “commission” was to make 8 glass crosses which David and Joy Bark took with them on their visit to the HOTPEC Orphanage in the Cameroon this November.



Orange is not my favourite colour yet when I looked at the windows in the Rock Chapel it was orange that seemed to reflect my sabbatical most strongly.  That’s because it’s a colour of energy and vitality.  I’ve really enjoyed being able to participate in lots of sporting events this Autumn (mostly on Sunday mornings!)  These included the Leeds Triathlon; Round Leicester Relay; Leicester half marathon and a cycling Sportif in the Cotswolds which I completed with Jane, Ann and Paul from Syston and their friend, Stuart.  I give thanks for good health which allows me to do these things.



The bottom of the window represents the miles I’ve cycled around winding, hilly roads.  This includes the Devon Coast-to-Coast route which I tackled in September, but mainly the cycling in Morocco organised by Exodus holidays.  Hopefully you can make out the desert and traditional mud-built flat-roofed houses.  This took me out of my comfort zone, especially as I picked up a tummy bug on day 1, but gave me a huge sense of achievement. 



The bicycles also represent figure eights.  My Dad was 80 in November and we celebrated with a party which I organised with my sister.  I am very proud to have a Dad who lives life so openly and generously that more than 100 people came to his party!  I was also delighted that Eileen’s Little Big Band were prepared to come all the way over to Stoke-on-Trent to provide the entertainment. 


Islamic Art and Architecture

I travelled overland to Morocco by train, stopping off at cities in Spain.  The arch over the cycling scene represents the Grand Mosque in Cordoba, Andalucia.  This was built by the Moors in the 9th and 10th centuries.  When Christian rulers overthrew the Moors, the Mosque was turned into a Cathedral.  The architecture – with rows of arches stretching in all directions – is stunning.  Above that you can see an example of Zellij, incredibly intricate, colourful geometric tiling which I found in the Alhambra Palace in Spanish Granada (also built by the Moors)– but also all over the Moroccan cities of Fes and Marrakech.  The beautiful, geometric patterns appealed to me as a (former) mathematician but also spoke of the infinity and beauty of God as understood within Islam.  Whilst the Christian view is clearly different from the Muslim one (as we are about to find out in the messiness of the Christmas stable) I was still able to draw upon it in my own reflections on the Divine nature.

(photo of Cordoba arches and Zellij tiling)


Sunsets and Finisterre

On the left of the window is a setting sun over a fire.  I’ve seen so many beautiful sunsets over the last 3 months – one of the most stunning being from the Rock of Gibraltar which I called in at on my return journey from Morocco.  But what I was really thinking of here was an event at the end of Neil’s sabbatical, earlier in the year.  He walked an 800 mile pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain and I joined him to walk to Finisterre.  In ancient times, this seemed to be the end of the world.  Traditionally pilgrims burned their possessions on reaching Finisterre.  Neil burned a pair of his favourite shorts which he’d walked in and had seen better days. 


“In the Beginning was the Word”

This was something else which stole into my window from before my official sabbatical, but which has been a highlight of my year.  I helped organise the worship at this year’s Methodist Conference which took place at Westminster Central Hall.  On Conference Sunday we began with an incredible introit, organised by the Applecart storytelling and drama company.  It was all very risky and scantily rehearsed but it worked like a dream.  The congregation sang the beginning of John’s famous prologue to his gospel in the Greek


La Sagrada Familia

On the return journey from Morocco, I met up with Neil and we spent a few days in Barcelona.  It really is a wonderful city for a short break.  The top of the window reminds me of the interior of the Roman Catholic cathedral, designed by Gaudi, which is still under construction in Barcelona.  It has knocked Durham Cathedral off the top spot as my favourite cathedral.  Coloured light pours through the stained onto the graceful columns and  light stone floor.  At the very top is a splash of blue, to represent the sunny skies I have travelled under both at home and abroad.



So that’s just a little bit about some of the highlights.  There’s much, much more to tell – you only have to ask!  Meanwhile, a bit of sabbatical wisdom for us all:


Take time to think; it is the source of power

Take time to read; it is the foundation of wisdom

Take time to play; it is the secret of staying young

Take time to be quiet; it is the opportunity to seek God.


Take time to be aware; it is the opportunity to help others

Take time to love and be loved; it is God’s greatest gift

Take time to laugh; it is the music of the soul

Take time to be friendly; it is the road to happiness


Take time to dream; it is what the future is made of

Take time to pray; it is the greatest power on earth


From “Pray your Way” by Bruce Duncan



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