Sharon’s Sabbatical Reflections October 16, 2014
While on my travels, I was able to attend the final day of the Ryder Cup Golf tournament held this year in Auchterarder, Scotland. As some of you will know, this is the hometown of my maternal grandparents so the prospect of a day watching wealthy men chasing small white balls had slightly more appeal. The Ryder Cup is a very special event for several reasons. It is a team competition rather than an individual event. It pits a team of European golfers against Americans (please note this means those from the USA not North America). It is place on alternate years. Finally, the format is very unique over the three days.
During the week preceding the tournament, the British newspapers were full of articles about the participants and the exploding fan interest. One paper included a large special insert devoted to the Ryder Cup. In a weak moment, I began to read it. The result, as you are now discovering, was some striking insight. Normally the media focuses on celebrity athletes. Enthusiastic golf fans can name the top golfers in the world, the brand of golf clubs they use, the balls they prefer and even the clothing they sponsor. I imagined the meticulous preparation of the venerable Gleneagles Golf Course for this visit of the best golfers in the world. The media of the world would be focussed on the course and no golf club wants its international prestige and reputation to suffer because of poor turf!
This is where the article got especially interesting. Once Gleneagles won the bid to host the 2014 Ryder Cup, in 2004 I believe, they immediately contacted Jack Nicklaus. He had designed the PGA Centenary Course which would be used for the Ryder Cup. A few of the holes were redesigned to provide more challenge and variety to the layout. I expected that since I was operating on the assumption that this was all about the golfers. As I read on, Nicklaus was quoted on his vision for the course. He expressed his commitment to update the course to provide the best viewing experience for the spectators in attendance. That meant people like me . At this point I should interject that my only previous experience attending a major golf tournament was not positive. I found my field of vision totally filled with tall men. I could hear the balls being hit but I could not see who was hitting them or where they were landing. In fact, after that tournament I commented on how much I liked Sergio Garcia’s shoes which I had been able to spy from my vantage point behind and below a tee box!
The article proceeded with an interview with the grounds superintendent at Gleneagles. He explained that Nicklaus’ redesign included lowering most of the fairways and grading the rough on either side. In essence, he wanted an amphitheatre created along each hole. Some 40,000 spectators were expected and Nicklaus was determined to do what he could to make the best sight lines ever. The course superintendent describe the task of bringing 50,000 transport truckloads of dirt into the close confines of the golf course. This was followed by the painstaking task of gently grading miles of fairways. The result were berms that gently rose to about twelve feet in height. The result, for me at least, was a delightful day cheering Europeans on to victory. Wherever I went, I was able to see the action. As the tension built through the day, we ran from one hole to the next to watch as victory approached.
So, what does this have to do with ministry? Quite a lot, actually. In this sabbatical time I have read, thought and written a lot about preparing for my retirement. In my blogs you’ve been able to follow my reflections on the changes it will bring to my life. Then, I read that long newspaper insert and spent a lovely Sunday at the golf course and realized how much I had missed. Looking forward means being attentive to the church and its needs. How will you, as a congregation, experience my leaving? What do we need to be putting into place now so that we will all navigate that transition with the sense of confidence and joy.
I am so grateful to Jack Nicklaus and the crew at Gleneagles for making my golf experience so positive and memorable. Their forethought and effort made all the difference in the world. In the same way, our forethought, planning and implementation beginning now will play an invaluable role as I move towards retirement and WPUC continues its journey with new leadership. This too should be marked by joy and confidence. It should be a good experience for all. To that end, I am meeting with folks who have expertise and guidance to share from the United Church Conference and Presbytery. From there, preliminary meetings with staff and with our Ministry and Personnel Committee will help us develop strategies and a framework for more conversation at the congregational level. This will be an exciting time. It will be energizing to anticipate what could happen in the future.
Let me be quite clear, I have no intention of sliding out of WPUC quietly. I have several projects in the works for the coming months. My curiosity for life has not diminished. This means that I will continue to poke, prod and surprise you with issues and ideas. I will bring challenging social justice and ethical issues to your attention and action. I will preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and, hopefully, lead you in ways that will enable you to live your faith in the world. So, don’t expect to see me in a rocking chair just yet!