You may have gathered from my last letter that as my sabbatical loomed I was experiencing a mixture of trepidation and excitement about going to the Middle East.
Looking back now it’s hard to image why I was uncertain. I don’t feel too bad about being a wimp though, most people in the group (some of them were very well travelled indeed) had experienced similar feelings. We had all been told that we were mad to be going to the area at this time, but each one of us, for our own reasons, decided to do it anyway. It turned out to be a really wonderful experience.
The people in the group were very friendly and supportive, the inhabitants of both Jordan and Palestine were exceptionally hospitable and we experienced very little trouble (getting out of Jordan and into Israel was a bit trying but that’s a story for another time).
There were opportunities to do things that I wouldn’t normally have dreamt of doing and there were visits to places I had read about and in some cases had studied in depth. Being in each one of them brought a new depth of understanding and appreciation. Amman, Geresh, The Dead Sea, the desert of Wadi Rum, Petra, the Red Sea and then into Palestine/Israel. I would very much like to share some of these things with you and so for the next few months I’ll publish a few of my diary entries and observations in Church Chat.
It is very rare for me to want to go back to a place I’ve visited but Jerusalem is one of those places that’s really got under my skin. Unfortunately there was disappointment too, as for various reasons I was unable to get to the Sea of Galilee area as planned. Because of this I plan to return some time – if you’d be interested in joining me please let me know.
The trip to the Middle East wasn’t the only thing I did during the Sabbatical. I really welcomed the opportunity to worship in different churches and visited a variety of different denominations. It was really encouraging to note that the church in general is alive and well and doing some very interesting things. However, I found no other congregation that was doing ‘Café Worship’ during the morning service, for the moment that seems to be our thing.
As far as studying is concerned, I read extensively around the fascinating and disturbing history of Jerusalem to try to understand what’s happening in the Middle East. However, I also looked at mission, poverty in Britain, children’s work, and the letter to the Philippians, which we will be studying in the Thursday afternoon Bible study for a few months. I’m also preparing a series of talks for various fellowship groups, including Forest Hill’s Tuesday Fellowship on 17 September, everyone welcome.
The time away from the churches has given me the opportunity to explore things I wouldn’t normally have the time to do. It’s given me the chance to slow down, to think, to read, to pray and to seek God’s presence. It’s also given me the opportunity to spend time with my family and to discover that despite constant neglect I still have some friends! I think the experience has really made a difference and has given me a great deal to think about and a great deal to share.
So, I want to say, thank you for the opportunity and for giving me time to re-charge my batteries. Also, I want to say a huge thank you to all of the people who worked hard while I was away to ensure that everything ‘carried on as usual’.
Having said all that, I’m very glad to be back and look forward being with you all once again.