I was granted a sabbatical from regular incumbent’s duties at the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge from June 1st to August 31st AD 2017. The main project for the sabbatical was the writing of a book for Evangelical Press about the escalating challenges facing Bible-believing Christians in Britain since the turn of the Millennium. By God’s grace the book was completed by mid-August and approved by the Board of Evangelical Press.
Visiting other churches, mainly but not only in Sheffield Diocese, on Sundays gave spiritual shape to the sabbatical and the experiences were profoundly instructive and in most cases edifying and encouraging. I would not normally have the opportunity to attend the Sunday morning services of other churches in South Yorkshire and it was enormously useful to be able to learn from these Christian communities in different settings.
The churches in our diocese I attended on Sunday mornings included Holy Cross, Gleadless Valley; All Saints’, Darfield; St Thomas’, Kilnhurst; St Thomas’, Philadelphia; St Andrew’s, Kendray; St Peter’s, Conisbrough; St Alban’s, Wickersley; St Luke’s, Lodge Moor, and St Chad’s, Woodseats.
In mid-July, I attended a summer school run by Oak Hill Theological College in north London. This was called ‘Leaders who Last’ and was about resilience in ministry. It was of tremendous value for me after 21 years of ordained ministry with, Lord willing, 15 or so years to go until retirement. The input from the director of Anglican Training at Oak Hill, Dr Mark Pickles, on the Puritan theologian John Owen’s writing on spiritual mindedness was of particular value. There was also very valuable input on the enduring importance of genuine empathy in the minister’s engagement with people, reflecting the empathy our Lord Jesus Christ consistently displayed in his engagements particularly with suffering people.
In terms of reading, Christopher Ash’s book on the Psalms, Teaching Psalms, Volume One – From Text to Message (PT Resources/Christian Focus, 2017), was of great value. Christopher is writer in residence at Tyndale House in Cambridge and it was great to be able to meet up with him during a short visit to Cambridge in August. His book shows how important it is that Christian readers of the Psalms of David realise that he is writing in his capacity as God’s Anointed King, the Christ. David thus foreshadows the Lord Jesus Christ and therefore the Christian should not personally identify with every statement in what are ultimately the songs of Jesus. But we should learn how to pray the Psalms in Christ.