August marked my return to the Parish following my three month sabbatical. Many of you have kindly asked about my time away - the places I had visited, what 1had discovered and learnt and was I feeling rested and ready to resume my ministry.
The answer to those questions was very definitely yes. I have appreciated the freedom from routine, the time to travel and discover new experiences and meet new people all of which are a 'rest' because they energise and refresh.
People have always gone on journeys to enrich their spiritual lives and it is important to recognise this need. 'Armchair pilgrimages' can be just as refreshing as travelling thousands of miles and for many who for whatever reason are unable to make physical journeys this can be a very positive alternative.
Pilgrimage is a universal theme with roots that are deep and centuries old. The whole experience brings together the travelling, the encounters and conversations on the journey, the arrival at the destination, and probably the most significant, the final part - the journey home. We return home - not quite the people we were when we set off.
The landscapes of my travels informed the relationships and encounters I experienced. Travelling around western Turkey, a huge area of many contrasts from the frenetic, teeming city of Istanbul to the isolated plains of Anatolia, the strange but beautiful sculptured Cappadocian desert rock formations, the rugged Taurus mountains and ancient historical sites all witnessed to the artistry of the Creator.
The encounter with the Islamic faith and practices of everyday life helped my understanding of what underpins life in that particular secular state. The same difficulties and problems that concern us in our Christian way of life are the universal ones of family and community. It is family and community relationships that matter and this is the common ground that we should work hard to protect and nurture.
Nearer to home, but inspiringly beautiful, were the landscapes of Northumberland. Our journey took us across the National Park from Hadridan's Wall to the coastal island of Lindisfarne.
The stunning sunsets over the sea and the bird sanctuaries of the Farne Islands again speak to us about the wonder of creation. When we think back to the harsh life of the northern saints, always living in fear of Viking invasions we can only be thankful for their steadfastness of faith and their dedication to evangelism.
Through Oswald, Aiden and Cuthbert all having lived or been associated with the monastic life on Lindisfarne, Christianity was established in that northern region. Even today, aware of fast tides limiting access to the island, tourists and pilgrims are touched by their encounter with that holy place. The landscapes speak their own language of God.
My time away has been a blessing and, as with all journeys, it's good to arrive home. I have missed you (and often thought of you all) especially our worship and fellowship within the Parish. I've enjoyed catching up with Parish news and look forward to the next part of our journey together. Every blessing