Thursday, August 9, 2018

Sabbatical Report

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


I am on sabbatical and will post here again in September 2018.

- John.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Take One

I have a friend who says, “if someone offers you a breath mint – take it!” For if it’s offered, it’s necessary and of benefit to everyone concerned. The same is true of sabbaticals… it just took me a while to get the message. A sabbatical is of benefit to everyone involved.

I have made a commitment to learn to play the guitar and that I will do, or at least try. To satisfy the rules of the CRA I need to prove that this kind of study is of benefit to my employer. There’s a wonderful Marx Brothers skit where Chico is negotiating to have the Marx Brother perform at a show. The schedule of payment, based on the number of performances and rehearsals, was complicated. The joke was that the fewer number of each caused the price to go up. When the manage asked, “well, what if you don’t play at all?” Chico said, “Oh, you can’t afford that!”

Perhaps that will be the next big fundraiser for us – how much will you pay for me NOT to play? And I can’t even imagine the money we could raise for me not to sing!

Onto more serious matters. I am happy that the Rev’d John Ferguson agreed to be the priest-in-charge while I’m away. He has tremendous experience as a priest and I am sure that you will enjoy his time amongst us. And he will not be on his own, Jay and Ted and Cathy and Bonnie have all said that they are willing to help in any way they can. And Carolyn Jenkins will be holding it all together in the office. The Wardens and the Parish Council are fully behind my sabbatical leave and I am sure each one is willing to help.

The next three months will be outside my comfort zone and I believe a growing edge for me. I think it benefits me and everyone involved. I thank you all for this opportunity.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

We Were Welcomed

Those were the words of one of the visitors to our worship last week, “we were welcomed.” It was said with such conviction that I am sure he meant more than, people were nice to us. I am sure that he meant that, in the name of Christ, he felt a holy welcome, like a brother returning home.

It makes me feel wonderful to be with so many fine people, to be with people who are trying to do as Christ commanded, to love one another.

There are two things to consider. First, some studies suggest that people will decide whether they will return to a Church community within 10 seconds of entering the worship space. No, that’s not a typo (10 seconds). That’s long before we can ever say or do something really stupid or offensive. That’s long before the sermon.

What can you detect within 10 seconds of entering a building? Our nose picks up smells. We know right away if a place is clean. Not everyone likes coffee but generally the smell of coffee would be considered a welcoming sign. Our eyes can see people. We can see right away if people are happy and if they will make eye contact. Eye contact is welcoming. Our ears hear sounds. We know right away if the sounds we hear are welcoming. Conversation and laughter sound more welcoming than silence.

Secondly, people tend to make judgments, like if they will return to a worshipping community, based on assumptions they already have. If someone grew up in a small rural congregation their assumptions about what to expect from a church community could be vastly different from what we are. We simply can’t control people’s assumptions.

What we can control is our behavior and we can be is authentic. We can be welcoming in the ways we know how. We might not be everyone’s cup-of-tea and that’s okay. What makes me happiest is that we are motivated by the love of Christ.