I spend a lot of time in my car, driving between the four villages of the Benefice. I never tire of looking at this beautiful corner of Oxfordshire. Each season brings its own joy: the daffodils appearing in the verges, the May blossom and gradual greening of the trees as they burst into leaf, the changing colour of the fields as crops grow and are harvested and the way that the differing angles of the sun affects what you can see in the distance.
But this spring, as I have been driving from Enstone to Chadlington, through Taston and Spelsbury, I have enjoyed seeing something that I have not noticed before. Over the winter months the mature hedges on either side of the road have been cut back, revealing a view of Spelsbury Church not previously visible from the road.
A good few years ago a large conifer was removed from the front of Spelsbury Church by the west door. The result has been that the Church is now visible from all over the valley, and very fine it looks too in the spring sunshine. Cutting things down, stripping things away, often gives us a new view or perspective.
On 1st June, I am going to undergo something of a similar experience — although I hope not as dramatic! The Bishop has granted me a three-month Sabbatical – a period of time when I lay down my day-to-day responsibility for the parishes of the Chase Benefice and I will be away from the Benefice until Sunday 12 September.
A sabbatical is not a holiday as such. It is a chance for rest, reflection and discernment. During this time I am going to spend time in retreat, taking time away from normal working life to be alone with God. I am also going to spend time weaving, a much neglected hobby, and visiting some weavers on the islands of the Outer Hebrides, as well as enjoying being with the family, doing some reading, walking and just ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. Some of this time will be away from the Benefice, some of it will be based at the Vicarage – but I will not be involved in any Benefice activity nor will I engage in any conversations about the Benefice or look at emails!
This is the second sabbatical that I have been granted in 28 years of ordained ministry and comes as I approach the 20th anniversary of becoming Rector of the Chase Benefice. I am ready for three months of Sabbath rest with its change of pace and perspective.
During this time Ilona Cheyne will be taking on pastoral responsibility for the Benefice, supported by the Churchwardens and PCCs. All enquiries should in the first instance be directed to her. I am extremely grateful to have Ilona as a colleague and to be able to leave the Benefice in her care.
And I will look forward to returning to the Benefice in mid September when hopefully we will have emerged fully from the shadow of COVID-19.
In the meantime I wish you a peaceful and sunny summer!