The next four months of my life are a journey into the unknown, but I am ready for them
On Easter Sunday 2009 I begin a four month sabbatical from work (including annual holiday entitlement). Anglican clergy can do this with their Bishop’s and church’s approval once every seventh year. This will be my first in sixteen years since I was ordained.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to take some time out from the business of parochial ministry and for the good wishes offered to me, especially from people who have no chance in their employment to do the same. As one or two have poignantly observed, the only sabbatical they might obtain in a deep recession is a permanent one from work.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone in employment was offered the chance to take a sabbatical every seventh year? Some companies and partnerships offer sabbaticals to senior executives and partners after long service, but this gift is not afforded to the average employee. No strong argument has ever been made for such a development but a persuasive case could be made. The claim that workplaces could not possibly cope with the dislocation has already received a blow from extended maternity and paternity leave. And a sabbatical has the inclusive merit of applying to single people as well as those with children. Think how much more enriched and creative we would be as a nation if people were allowed just three months to pursue their dreams, hobbies and relationships with undivided attention. Bodies and minds so renewed would add real value to social and economic life. Yet we are so in thrall to the immediate demands of the material world that we have collectively denied ourselves this option by default.
Suggesting a policy like this in a recession is likely to receive as favourable a response as the medical adviser who recently advocated limiting the consumption of chocolate on health grounds. Few people would feel safe in their employment while on sabbatical, so perhaps there is a better moment to raise the issue. That so few people have raised this possibility in public before is evidence of a society which has lost the true spiritual meaning and origin of Sabbath. Social and political thinkers are always trying to come up with new ideas for patching up our frayed community but in their itchiness for the latest trend, have ignored ancient wisdom. As a nation we have brought such ignorance on ourselves in part by consenting to the aggressive and sustained corporate attack on the special nature of Sunday where the very word ‘Sabbath’ was used as a term of abuse on a par with the epithet ‘Taliban’. It will take a long time for us to recover from the impact of this.
I really do not know what to expect from the next four months. God has given this time to me and I want to share it with him. My visit to Israel for a ten day conference on the theological and political implications of the Holocaust and the current situation in the Middle East is likely to be taxing yet I am ready for it. I would like to do something about the inertia which has stopped me exploring the cultural richness of living on the outskirts of one of the world’s greatest cities. This inertia is for me a function of working most evenings and every weekend: when space opens up in the diary the attractive option usually becomes an evening in (though I know clergy who can’t get enough of going out for the evening). I want to see more live sport, music and theatre. And I am building a pile of novels.
One component of the study which underscores this sabbatical will be the continuation of this website. It gets a healthy number of hits each week, but no website can develop and grow unless it is regularly updated. The site will therefore alter weekly. What it is filled with remains to be seen.
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