Monday, July 31, 2017


A number of you will already know that I have been granted a period of sabbatical leave in the autumn. Many colleagues have sent helpful wishes and comments; many others have expressed jealousy that this is not available in their line of work.

Without wishing to get over defensive, may I try to offer a brief summary of what and why.

Sabbath is essentially a biblical concept. We are encouraged to rest one day in seven. The root of the word can be found in Latin (sabbaticus), Greek (sabbaton) and Hebrew (shabbat). It is all about ceasing. But in the Hebrew Bible book of Leviticus the fields are to be given a rest one year in seven - a fallow, sabbath year.

Essentially rest is at the root of the idea. The fields get their breath back and they can grow more and better crops in future. People get their breath back and focus on their creator (today we have tended to separate a day of rest from a day of worship as people often only work five days a week). Organic farmers tend to use this system today. The late Nigel Lee, a colleague in Christian ministry, took great pride in telling me that he was spending his sabbatical doing almost nothing.

However the word does usually mean taking an extended period of leave in order to achieve some goal. In academia this might be travelling for research or writing a book.

When I worked at the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS) I was granted two months leave from other duties to study contemporary culture. It was fascinating and different work but it still felt like work and I had to produce a long paper for my employers with recommendations for future behaviour in the light of my findings. This would have been in the late 1990s.

When I worked at St Paul's, Leamington I was granted an extended holiday as an acknowledgement that their over-use of my part-time hours had infringed on my other part-time work as a freelance writer and thus they gave me the hours back. I wrote full-time for that period in about 2005 or 6 for seven weeks.

I have had a sabbatical dangled before me for three years now. I have left the fruit on the tree twice. Once to get Trendlewood Church's independence completed. Once to get Andy's (our congregational plant joint with St Andrew's, Backwell) off the ground. As a neighbouring parish is in vacancy I considered postponing it once more but a wise archdeacon said there would always be reasons not to do it and they can drown the reasons to do it, so I should go for it.

If I am honest, after eleven years in the same job, I am a bit drained and need to fill myself again. Whatever your opinion of the necessity and style of full-time Christian ministry there can be few doubts that over the long term it is gruelling. I stood alone in front of an all-age congregation yesterday trying to get the dial to go up to eleven. It was tough. The tank's empty. The ideas are thin. I'm as tired as a pick your own rhetorical device.

I have had to devote a lot of extra time to making sure the things I normally do will be OK. Services are almost covered up to and beyond Christmas. Things I simply do without thinking about them (I have no secretarial or PA help here) such as our weekly communications and social media updates need not only to be passed on but others need to be trained in them.

So now, after thirty three years of ordained ministry, I am taking three months, from September 11th - December 10th inclusive. I intend to write. I have two books conceived and hope to finish one of them. Neither currently has a publisher although I have some contacts and have had  three previous books published. One is a spiritual book about the nature of faith; the other a novel.

I am looking forward to this with a sense of purpose and guilt. I know there are others who work hard who don't get the opportunity - although these days many demanding jobs offer career breaks in the contract and pay enough for these to be affordable. I will try not to waste the time. I accept that it is a privilege. Thank you if you have contributed to making it possible.


Ray Barnes said...

Sometimes to be able to offer your best to others you need to stop and refuel.
It sounds as though this Sabbatical is long overdue.

Steve Tilley said...

Cheers Ray.

Anonymous said...

I took a three month sabbatical ten years ago. It was the first time I'd done such a thing after 29 years in full time ministry (mainly because I was in dioceses that had no money, so couldn't fund such a thing). It was a life-changing experience for me. I hope yours is as much of a blessing to you.

Tim Chesterton

Steve Tilley said...

Thanks Tim. I am looking forward to it now but lots to do in the last two weeks before.