Right now I am focused on wrapping up things at work and preaching my last sermon for a while this Sunday. But beginning on Monday I’ll have to turn my attention to what we have planned for our sabbatical.
The very first thing we will do is fly to Louisville, KY for a conference at the Louisville Institute and to receive a grant that we were awarded for our sabbatical leave. This grant is a remarkable experience of grace. We are receiving significant financial support to carry out our proposal which was called, “Resting in our Roots”.
After returning from Louisville we will have one day home and then go on a family vacation to celebrate Erica’s father’s 80th birthday. Then we return home for one week of frantic preparation before leaving for three months in Hexham, England!
After spending the last seven years developing new programs, buildings, and ministry at Pres House, our sabbatical plan is to connect with the past by exploring our familial roots, visiting ancient Christian places with connection to our family roots, and recovering “old” practices that physically embody spiritual growth for each of us.
The first aspect of our Sabbatical centers around family roots. While we have been praying and thinking about a Sabbatical for some time, it was a trip to England this past April to celebrate my grandmother’s 100th birthday that inspired us with a vision to root ourselves for a season in an ancient town and enter into its daily rhythms of life. We were fascinated with the sense of history these towns had, especially as we worshiped in Hexham Abbey. To ponder that people had been walking the same streets, kneeling on the same church floor, and going about their business for more than a thousand years was humbling—the town has seen much change, and yet it remains the same.
We will root ourselves in the town of Hexham for three months where we can enter into the life of the community as we get to know neighbors, shop in local grocery stores, and have our children attend school all in the context of my ancestral homeland. We are exchanging homes with a retired couple – living in their house while they live in ours. Our “work” will be to slow our pace, read, journal, cook, exercise, observe, and simply be. This location also allows us to reconnect with my grandmothers and uncle’s family, which have been distant for most of my life due to living so far apart.
The second aspect of our Sabbatical centers around ancient Christian places, specifically those connected with my family roots. There is a small village near Hexham called Elsdon. When we were there last April we learned the story of the first Elsdon, an orphan abandoned at the church in the village. The pastor took the baby in and named him Cuthbert Elsdon after the church and village (St. Cuthbert’s parish in the village of Elsdon). Hearing this story (see video clip below) was powerful for us because learning about where we come from roots us in an identity much deeper and older than the roles we play in everyday life. On a spiritual level, our family name Elsdon connects us not only to a beautiful village in northern England but also to an ancient expression of the Christian faith.
St. Cuthbert, the patron saint of northern England, was an Anglo-Saxon monk, bishop, and hermit in the seventh century. His life, ministry, and death had a lasting impact upon many communities in the Northumberland region of England. As a way of experiencing and reclaiming the roots of our faith, we plan to visit and reflect at some of the sites connected with St. Cuthbert such as Lindisfarne (Holy Island) and Durham).
The third aspect of our Sabbatical plan centers on recovering “old” practices that physically embody spiritual growth for us; for Mark, that is bicycling and for Erica, that is martial arts. Over twenty years ago, I experienced the profound presence of Christ while on a youth group cycling trip in Colorado. Since then, cycling has been an important part of my spirituality. I plan to volunteer 10-15 hours a week at the Bike Shop Hexham as a mechanic’s assistant to learn the art of bicycle maintenance.
During her college years, Erica devoted herself to the practice of taekwondo which is derived from Korean ancient martial arts. After an extended hiatus, she has recently reacquainted herself with this physical discipline. Taekwondo has long been a source of refreshment and joy, and she has missed not having the time to study and engage in it more seriously. Erica plans to practice and grow in taekwondo by joining a local club in England, to further develop her skills. It is her hope not only to recover this practice into her daily life, but to also take steps toward earning her black belt.
In mid-June we will return from England and spend a few days getting re-acclimated to Madison before beginning work again.