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Sharon’s Sabbatical Reflections September 22, 2014

Sunday morning began with serene quiet.  We stayed the night on Jesse Sage’s home farm in Batcombe Vale, Somerset.  You will remember Jesse for his visit several years ago to the church.  He is our South Africa connection.  The farm is like the postcards you see of rolling green hills, stone fences, grazing cows and church spires poking out from the trees.  Jesse decided we should walk to church.  This sounded like a pleasant time so I quickly agreed.  Within minutes i realized why he had given my footwear a quick check.  Our route went through several fields with livestock—and other livestock accompaniments!  It also involved climbing at least three fences or gates.  The last stretch was on a narrow paved roadway that involved gymnastic moves to avoid approaching cars.We entered Blessed Virgin Mary Church of England through heavy woods doors that are nearly 400 years old.  We had hardly stepped in when Jesse turned, opened another door and invited me to follow.  Before me was a tiny, steep, claustraphobic circular staircase leading up the spire.  We climbed and climbed—I was silently praying that I didn’t fall down or collapse over the parapet if I actually made it to the top!  After considerable huffing and puffing on my part we emerged in the bellringers loft.  There six people were playing the bells.  They did this for an hour prior to the start of worship.  The sequence of the rings is set out on music that looks like computer code—a long series of numbers that correspond to each.  I stayed until five of the bells were quieted and only one bell tolled the start of worship.For those of you who are probably wondering, yes, this was more than a bit like visiting the church at Dibley if you’ve every watched the show on PBS.  There was even a woman vicar, Rosie!   The service was very traditional.  The sermon was insightful.  Communion was done thoughtfully.  I felt I had worshipped in the best sense of the word.  The walk home afforded the opportunity to pick at Jesse’s brain about retirement from ministry.  When he first retired in Gonubie, his bishop told him that he was no longer welcome at the church.  This was hard for him to hear, as you might imagine.  We talked about the wisdom of stepping away from the church one has served.   We could even rationalize what the bishop said given all the research.  But the fact remained that it hurt to leave.  It hurt to have to sever important and valued relationships.  Ultimately, it was with sadness that he moved away.  On one of my previous postings I talked about the difference between filling up time and being full.  Jesse is a wise man and he lead the discussion towards his understanding of fullness.  He continues to have a strong and meaningful connection with the preschool in Gonubie.  He is available to help Vicar Rosie as requested and to be a strong supporter of her ministry at all times.  In other words, he found his place.  His spiritual life is full.  His life is rich with family, neighbours and friends.  It was so easy to see that his sense of call remains strong but how he lives out that call has evolved over the years of his retirement.Jesse will be travelling to the preschool in the new year.  He will take with him the gifts of WPUC.  He will determine how they will be spent based on the needs he finds.  As we spoke, Jesse marvelled at the continued generosity of a congregation so far away on the Canadian prairie.  But God is behind this tiny miracle of friendship.  When I was a seminary student in Toronto writing him for the first time, I had no idea that a simple request for information would bear fruit more than thirty years later.   My connection with Jesse has allowed all of us to participate in a project that is making a difference in the lives of hundreds of children.  There is hope where there might otherwise be despair.As I sat in church on Sunday Vicar Rosie preached on the call of Matthew.  He was a tax collector who seemed deeply troubled by his life.  When Jesus came along and invited him to ‘follow’ Matthew experience a kind of spiritual awakening.  That’s a good way to describe this week.  It has been a series of spiritual awakenings about friendship, faith, giving, moving forward and looking back.  Like Matthew, the best spiritual awakenings leave us feeling healed, whole and hopeful…..as do I.Blessings to all.Sharon

Categories: General News, Sharon