The first time I walked into St. Paul’s Church was 29 years ago, as a fresh faced (yet bearded) newly ordained deacon. I wasn’t the first curate at St. Paul’s and I was warmly welcomed and included in the community. The appointment was to be for two years but circumstances in the diocese meant that the bishop needed me elsewhere. Despite protest from the rector of the day (Archdeacon Ted Morgan) and myself the bishop couldn’t be persuaded to leave me here. Just seven short months later I took up my responsibilities as rector of Port Hawkesbury and Arichat in Cape Breton.
In all these years I rarely gave taking a sabbatical much thought. Occasionally, I’d run a doctrinal proposal past a colleague, and three times I’d spoken with Deans at Theological colleges about the possibility of further studies. One college actively tried recruiting me to start a doctorate. Despite a commitment to life-lone learning the thought of returning to school never excited me. I believe that congregations deserve the best in preaching and I make a concerted effort to remain up-to-date on theological thinking and biblical scholarship. Perhaps my preaching and teaching style don’t reveal the academic supports for the things I say, but they are there, and I can, every time cite my sources.
So, over a year ago, retire bishop Sue Moxley strongly suggested that I take a sabbatical. She expressed shock and concern that I’d never taken one. I thought, prayed and wrestled over what I might do. The rules around sabbaticals were once rather relaxed. It didn’t seem to matter what someone did. Now however, it matters, and Revenue Canada wants to make sure that sabbaticals are of value to the employer. I knew that I could study just about any obscure bit of a Christian thing and it would be approved. But what about the guitar?
Here’s the weird bit – I could travel just about anywhere in the world and enroll in a guitar playing course and I would be approved for full funding and probably received a grant. But, because my main expense was going to be the guitar, funding is doubtful. I am confident that after I’ve submitted all my receipts the expenses will be approved.
One of the reasons I am confident is that every other aspect of the proposal was easy. I feel as though I have support from the Wardens, the Parish Council, the congregation, my family and the bishop. I am thankful for all of you. Also, I am particularly thankful for the Rev’d John Ferguson and his willingness to cover the parish for Sundays and for pastoral concerns. I am thankful also for Jay, Ted, Bonnie and Cathy for filling in at various times too. It is wonderful to be a part of a community that is as welcoming and inclusive as you remain.
I have discovered during this sabbatical that there is a subtle difference between knowing how the guitar is played and being able to play the guitar. Of the first I am a master. The second, a novice (perhaps). A year ago, I knew how to form one chord, the G chord. I know many more now and can play several.
It has been a challenge, to say the least, but one that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Not being particularly good at something has never stopped me from trying. And have no fear, the guitar will not make it into every sermon.
There were times when trying to accomplish some guitar related skill felt more like work than play, this time has been, overall, a great joy for me. The guitar will be a part of my daily life as long as my fingers will allow it. My hope is that I will continue to improve, add skills and play well with others. I am thankful for all the support I’ve had and am deeply touched by the interest so many people have shown. I hope too, that one day people will enjoy listening to me as much as I enjoy playing.
As I come to the end of the sabbatical, I find myself looking forward to returning—rested and eager to meet the changes and chances before us.
John “Strummer” Clarke