My 2014 sabbatical journey has been unusual to say the least. It has coincided with my last weeks in Durham and involved travel north to Shetland and east to Hong Kong, staying at home to write the first draft of a book and downsizing possessions for a move.
Last weekend I was in Durham – conducting a wonderful wedding on the Saturday and preaching myself out on the Sunday. Later that day I was in Manchester, staying with friends in the parish where I served my curacy and the following day was flying to the USA.
Now I am in Virginia enjoying a unique opportunity to meet with Christians from the Mennonite Church. Six days in it has already been a hugely worthwhile experience which will inform my thinking and writing for months and years to come. Maybe I can offer a offer a few hints and highlights through this blog.
So far I have:
Enjoyed meeting Howard Zehr, who is often called ‘the grandfather of restorative justice’ and has been hugely lauded for his pioneering work in that field – but who has had a parallel career as a photojournalist and produced a splendid illustrated book on ‘Pickup Trucks – A Love Story’ which celebrates their owners and their stories in word and image.
Enjoyed a lovely evening meal with the pastors of Park View Mennonite Church and their spouses – discovering that not only did the chief pastor make the after-dinner coffee (very carefully) but also roasts his own beans and runs a small fair-traded, home-roasted coffee business.
Enjoyed speaking to 50 people who came to a special lunch event at which I was expounding ideas in my ‘Barefoot Disciple’ book. In response to my suggestion that the quest of ‘Christllikeness’ is overstated someone suggested that we should rather talk of ‘Christ-with-ness’ which seems a better idea to me.
Enjoyed meeting the President of Eastern Mennonite University and learning about the values and ethos of the place. They have a ‘community lifestyle commitment’ signed by all Faculty and students. Here are the first two sentences: ‘As a member of the EMU community, I will strive to practice stewardship of mind, time, abilities and finances. I will pursue opportunities for intellectual and spiritual growth and demonstrate care for my body.’ There is plenty of material for a focused blog in the existence and content of that statement.
Enjoyed rather a lot of shared meals with our wonderfully generous hosts. I have never had scrapple with apple butter for breakfast before, and I guess few readers of this blog will have either.
Enjoyed leading a half-day workshop on Time Wisdom for Ministry with a dozen Mennonite Pastors. It’s fascinating to explore just how significant time issues are for people in wildly differing contexts.
Enjoyed a tour of ‘Old Order Mennonite’ (aka ‘Horse and Buggy Mennonite) country, which included lunch with a family who run a buggy shop – which both makes and repairs buggies, and meeting an 83 year old bishop and his wife. As we walked to his church he said ‘ I sure never had this pleasure before – walking to church with English friends’.
Enjoyed a couple of visits to a local ‘Wellness Centre’ to swim in the salt water pool. I don’t think I have ever felt so bouyant.
Enjoyed preaching at Park View Mennonite Church which is so high-tech that the service is broadcast live on a local radio station, CDs and DVDs are available immediately afterwards and the sermon is posted on-line in video.
Enjoyed – immediately afterwards – heading off to have half a day with Old Order Mennonites. About 20 people sat down to eat a wholesome family meal and in the afternoon we spent an hour at the same long table singing hymns from their hymnal in four part harmony all set out in shaped notes.
Enjoyed an early evening picnic at another local Mennonite Church discussing the spirituality (and church politics) of ecological and environmental awareness, and seeing (in the dusk) their ‘Creation Care path and community garden’, while swiping away rather a lot of mosquitoes whose ideas of creaturely mutuality I was not inclined to reciprocate.
It has indeed been an enjoyable time so far, and the programme looking forward looks just as interesting. When my thoughts have developed further I will have more to say about the Old Order encounters. For now I have to recover from finding myself holding the reigns in a buggy after our singing hour this afternoon.