And so my summer of sabbatical comes to an end. Within hours I shall be flying home only to pack it all up and move to Cambridge. The last fortnight has been an astonishingly rich meal of encounters and experiences, the implications and lessons from which I shall be gently and gratefully digesting over the coming months.
So, kindly blog reader, I can’t offer you any carefully composed refections here – but am delighted to share the top twenty snapshots from the camera in my mind.
1. Preaching for 20 minutes in a seminary chapel – and having a 45 minute questions and answer session immediately afterwards. (Great questions btw).
2. Enjoying an open-air ‘Vespers’ one Sunday led by small male voice choir singing blue-grass and gospel songs a-cappella.
3. Swimming in a salt-water pool at a ‘Wellness Centre’ (so much less threatening than a ‘Fitness Centre’) and also in a mountain lake and in a domestic pool filled with chilly well water.
4. The feeling in countless conversations, that defences were down, minds were working, hearts were open and souls connecting.
5. Hearing an exemplary teaching sermon on Christian citizenship at a ‘Praise Fellowship’.
6. Sitting around a long farmhouse dining table singing 4 part hymns with Old Order Mennonites – and their delighted surprise when I told them the story of Reginald Heber and John Bacchus Dykes who provided words and music for one of their favourites, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’.
7. Being thanked for things I didn’t know I’d done.
8. Discussing head, heart and hand questions arising from the story of Moses and the burning bush with a small house church.
9. Hearing several moving stories of how Mennonites have been made welcomed and supported and encouraged by Episcopalians and Anglicans in very diverse parts of the world.
10. Being given a hand-knitted prayer shawl and a hand crafted ‘stem vase’ of cherry wood.
11. Zooming along at about 25mph in an Old Order mennonite buggy pulled by a retired racehorse. (It felt more like 70!)
12. Watching the sun rise and set at the Bellfry (see previous blog).
13. Being asked to admire the richness, life and glory of two handfuls of dark black compost – knowing that it was the product of numerous dead cattle as well as cartloads of straw and other vegetable matter.
14. Grace – said or more often silent – at each and every gathering for food.
15. An evening with students from the Centre for Justice and Peacebuilding – hearing their stories from around the world, as well as their motives and their and aspirations. Then getting their responses to my thoughts about forgiveness and humility and delighting that they are quickly on to the significance of humility for healing and peacebuilding.
16. Watching huge butterflies, tiny hummingbirds and brightly coloured cardinals and woodpeckers.
17. Hearing searing stories from those who have served with Mennonite missions in the Middle East.
18. Being asked to pray with and for various individuals and groups.
19. Receiving huge and humbling personal encouragement as a writer.
20. Receiving deeply caring hospitality from many, but especially from our warmly generous hosts.
An unforgettable fortnight, obviously.