Below is an article I wrote for the church newsletter reflecting on my sabbatical.
You will have realised by now that I have returned from my sabbatical. First of all I want to thank you all for respecting my sabbatical and not getting in touch with me during the last three months. A couple of weeks ago when I met Ian Whyte one of my predecessors in the Circuit . Ian always asks about church life when I see him and I normally tell him the news but on this occasion I had to tell him that I had no idea how things were going on simply because I had not heard any news myself. That said I realise I have missed out on some significant events. It would also have been good to be around to offer my support to those who have been ill or bereaved over the last few months hopefully I can offer some support now but I do know that John Wiggall has done an excellent job in my absence.
From my point of view the sabbatical has been a great success. You will realise that I did a lot of bird watching over the 13 weeks of my sabbatical. I saw 161 different species of bird in Britain mainly in Wales or North West England and I picked up a further 18 species of bird while I was on holiday with Ruth on Menorca. The best single birding experience was watching two spotted flycatchers raise a family as we sat in the hotel bar. On the first night mother was brooding freshly hatched chicks however by the time we left Menorca the family of four chicks had all fledged and mum was beginning to make a new nest for the next brood. To have the chance to sit and watch nature in action is a wonderful thing.
So have I learnt anything during the last few months? Well I can tell you that in the bible there are approximately 129 verses which mention birds and about 29 species are specifically named. Some of these you will know about like sparrows and eagles but also mentioned are swallows, vultures and even herons. My studies have also reminded me that translating the bible is a complex business. As my studies took me farther into the bible I realised that different people translated the words for birds differently for example in one place there is a reference to people shaving their heads to make them as bald as an eagle but other biblical translations talk about being as bald as a vulture.
Another point of interest for me has been issues surrounding the whole idea of God’s creation itself. On the Internet I found several websites looking at a similar theme to my own but they all came from a very different perspective. These sites took a very literal view of the bible and particularly of the creation story in Genesis chapter 1 refusing to countenance any argument for evolution. In this significant year when we are marking both the two hundredth anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the Origin of the Species I found that very challenging and I have been doing some reading around the subject to help me come to some sort of view on the matter. I will say at this point that I believe that the ideas behind evolutionary biology are based on good sound scientific principles but that that does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that God is not behind the process. I also would say that the bible is not to be read as a scientific journal explaining how things happen but rather the bible is the word of God and speaks to us of about God and God’s desires for us.
The last thing I want to say about my sabbatical is that it has been a really refreshing time for me. Physically I am more relaxed than I have ever been since entering the ministry and probably fitter too. I am mentally more relaxed than I have been for at least the last ten years of my life i.e. since entering the ministry. Spiritually it has been an excellent time, I have had the chance to enjoy worship and prayer and more particularly I have had to the opportunity to reflect on my calling as a Methodist Minister. It is with a deep sense of joy that I can say that the sabbatical has confirmed my calling by God and my desire to serve God as a Methodist minister.