It was great to be back with you in worship on Sunday. I am so grateful to you all for granting sabbaticals for your clergy for a time of rest, regeneration, and learning. (And also home-improvement projects: we now have solar panels on our rooftop at home.) I had a wonderful time, but I missed you who form this incredible community. Even though I watched online services from other churches and worshiped in a few cathedrals in Italy, nothing touched my heart like our service last Sunday. I also want to thank our staff for keeping things going in my absence, and especially to my friend and colleague, Ron Patterson, for another interim gig at Plymouth.
My sabbatical journey led me on a path of healing from my knee replacement, and a week at Ring Lake Ranch in August put it to the test, and it passed with flying colors. Diana Butler Bass was the presenter that week, and it was great. (It was Diana who strongly recommended Brian McLaren’s Do I Stay Christian? to me, and when the Ring Lake Silent Auction offered an online session with Brian, Jane Anne and I made the winning bid for Plymouth. I heard it was a great adult ed. offering!) You can go to Ring Lake Ranch next summer to get some R&R and hear great speakers like Jim Wallis and Otis Moss III.
I spent six amazing weeks in Italy searching for insights from the earliest Christian communities in that country, which was home to both Peter and Paul. Looking at art and architecture as indicators of community, I saw some incredible paleo-Christian sites, spanning from Aquileia at the northernmost part of the Adriatic Sea to Cimitile in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius.
We will be having a free Italian dinner and slide talk about the sabbatical (good for all ages!) at Plymouth on Tuesday, December 6 at 6:00 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall. RSVP here by 12.4. (Many thanks to an anonymous member of our congregation who offered to subsidize this evening!) In the meantime, you can look at my blog at halsabbatical.com to see more. I’ll continue to add to the blog, and you can subscribe and get update notifications.
Sabbatical also allowed me to spend time with family, which is so important in the life of clergy serving in the parish. My son, Cameron, spent almost two weeks with me in northern Italy, which was a blast for both of us. (He didn’t even complain about being dragged into many churches.) He is a great traveler, having lived in Ireland and Japan, and his best friend (who lives in London), joined us for a weekend in Venice. And of course, Jane Anne joined me for two weeks at the end of my time in Italy. We visited more churches (surprise!) and paleo-Christian sites, including amazing catacombs in Rome. And we caught up with an Italian friend, took a wonderful cooking class in Tuscany, and experienced the culture we love.
Some of the things I learned from our early Christian forebears and the way they practiced their faith (and which might inspire us in the 21st century) are
As we give thanks to God this coming Thursday, I offer gratitude for this congregation and its critical witness and work as an outpost of God’s kingdom in this time and place.