Sabbath is one of the key concepts of Judaism and Christianity. Though we don’t do a very good job observing it, when I was a kid growing up in Connecticut, stores were closed on Sunday (except for pharmacies, one of which was open for emergencies) and you certainly couldn't buy alcohol. Now, everything is available if not instantly, then with free two-day delivery. Yet, we all need to rest regularly for the health of our bodies, minds, and spirits.
I am grateful that part of my covenant with Plymouth includes a sabbatical every five years. On my first sabbatical, I received a $40,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment, part of which paid our interim staff and brought John Bell and John Philip Newell to Plymouth, laying the ground for our Visiting Scholar program. Our two Celtic Christian spirituality classes and the big Celtic cross in our Memorial Garden are also results of that sabbatical journey.
This sabbatical will be a bit different for me. The first phase is going to involve doing some physical rehabilitation. I’m about nine months into a yearlong course of medical treatment for prostate cancer, and it has taken a toll on my body, mostly muscle tone. I’m a month out from knee replacement, and while I’m walking reasonably well, I’m not going very far yet. Physical therapy and exercise are the order of the day.
Frankly, the last five years have been trying times for our family with deaths in Jane Anne’s family, two more rounds of cancer treatment, trying to lead Plymouth through the Covid jungle, and a couple of challenging years as head of staff. I’m going to spend some of the time doing some spiritual renewal as well, including a trip to Ring Lake Ranch, where I serve on the board of directors.
Sabbatical is also going to entail spending time with my sons, Cam and Chris. Later in the month, we are going to reprise one of the things we loved doing while they were growing up: going to museums in Denver and then going out for Dim Sum. Reconnecting with family has always been a joyful part of my sabbatical. One thing you may not realize about parish clergy is that we spend a lot of evenings away from our families and don’t get three-day weekends…when lots of parents connect with their children. (The photo above is from my 2008 sabbatical when the boys were with me in Scotland.)
Jane Anne and I had reservations all ready to go for a trip to Italy in 2020. And you know what happened that year! So, I’ll be heading to Italy in September, starting in the north and working my way southward, visiting and researching paleo-Christian sites. (You’ll be able to follow along on this part of my sabbatical journey by visiting halsabbatical.com — and you can read entries from my past sabbaticals there as well.) Cameron will join me for the first two weeks as we travel from Verona, Padua, and Venice. Then, I’ll visit Aquileia (a major Christian site literally demolished by Attila the Hun) and study early Christian mosaics in Ravenna. Time in Tuscany and then a visit to the earliest churches in Rome will round out my time alone. (We also need some new Christmas Eve bulletin cover photos!) Jane Anne will join me in Rome for visits to Ostia Antica, Rome’s ancient port, Naples, Herculaneum, and the early Christian site at Nola. I can’t wait!
I also want to let you know that you are in good hands while I’m away. Jane Anne and JT will be serving full-time through August 15, when Ron Patterson will return as half-time sabbatical interim. At that point, Jane Anne will drop back to part-time.
We have the most cohesive staff team we have had in my 20 years at Plymouth. Every member sees their ministry with you not simply as a job but as a calling. I am grateful to all of them for doing phenomenal work. Please support them!
As we acknowledged in our litany yesterday, I will keep you in my prayers, and I ask that you keep me in yours as well.
P.S. Did you know that Milan was founded by the Celts? They were everywhere!
P.P.S. I tested positive for COVID this morning (Tuesday, 7/12). I am doing fine with moderate symptoms. Jane Anne is still testing negative. I feel badly that I was among you at lunch on Sunday - though we were outside which I hope is a gift! And I hope none of you get COVID from being with me! By the way, thanks again for Sunday! What a joyous send-off and celebration of my 20 years with you. I am very blessed to serve among the Beloved Community of Plymouth.