Sabbatical Report2018

Sabbatical 2018 – a reflection

 

My sabbatical was an amazing time which has proved worthwhile at so many levels. For 11 weeks I travelled the world, setting the agenda of exploring the links around the world between the City and its Livery Companies. I wrote a blog as I travelled, which gave an overview and some pictures as I went through each day. It is available at: https://sljblog276056635.wordpress.com/

After the event I have reflected by looking at various themes.

 

 

Modes of transport

 

The first observation is that the sabbatical was all about travel. I used various modes of transport:

 

Cars                                                    33

Planes                                                12

Trains                                                 11 plus one engine shed

Boats                                                  11

Coach/Bus                                           7 (including one across an Airport tarmac)        

Trams                                                    5

Cable car                                              2 including one which was really a funicular railway.

Tractor                                                  1 (with Robert on the farm)

On foot                                              Loads!

 

The saddest thing about this is, probably, that I kept a record! I loved travelling on all sorts of different vehicles. It also reminded me of the concept of pilgrimage. In our Christian thinking the journey is often as important as the destination. The sabbatical is part of my journey at SLJ and in my ministry and the many times of movement and refreshment were part of who I will be for the coming years.

 

 

 

The City and Livery Companies

 

The stated purpose of the sabbatical was to explore London links around the world. I did this through meeting people in many of the places I visited.

 

In Florida I met and had informal discussions with history students and staff of the Florida Atlantic University.

 

In Virginia I stayed with a past Master of the Tobacco Pipemakers and the Poulters. We explored some of the history of the area, not least through the Virginia Company of London, and we visited a tobacco manufacturing plant which was fascinating.

 

In Toronto I was the after dinner speaker for the Honourable Company of Freemen of the City of London of North America. I also met one of my London wedding couples, Mark and Penny, which was lovely. Alderman Matthew Richardson and his wife Erica, who commute between the states and the City, were also at this dinner.

 

 

 

 

In New Zealand there were lots of opportunities, not least because Girdlers have had such long links. I met their selection board, for their New Zealand Scholarships. This group now includes a young lady who was the scholar when I arrived nine years ago. I also preached in Auckland and in Wellington Cathedrals and visited Waitangi Memorial Park, all of which is connected to the fact that I am co-Chaplain of the New Zealand Society of the UK.

 

In Melbourne I met the former Hall Beadle of the Haberdashers. He and his wife retired from the Hall and moved to Melbourne to be near their children, and they love living there. It was good to catch up and update him on Company business. I also met the Archdeacon of Wagga Wagga while staying in that area, and while I was in Sydney I met a professor whose current research includes some matters relating to the Guildhall Chapel, which was destroyed in the 1840’s when SLJ became the habitual place of worship for the Lord Mayor of London and the City of London Corporation.

 

In Singapore the East India Company popped up. Although it had existed for many centuries and was involved in the establishment of the Indian adventures, the man who came to Singapore and changed the course of its history, Raffles, was a staff member of the company. Singapore also involved another SLJ wedding couple and an former senior officers of the City of London Corporation.

 

And, so finally, I reached Dubai, where I stayed with another City wedding couple. Again I explored the British and City links in a short stay and enjoyed finding what I could.

 

All of this leads me to better understand the importance of the UK and particularly London in so many areas of the world. Clearly, with London as my starting point it was not surprising that I found many places where these links existed: the starting point does rather presuppose the destination. Nonetheless the range of types of link is immense and thought provoking. Not all of the things we have done as a country look quite so wonderful in hindsight as they might have done at the time.

 

 

The nature of tourism

 

All this travelling and exploring and learning leads to another question, which has hovered in my mind ever since my previous sabbatical many years ago. It relates to the nature of and effect of tourism on the communities we visit. Is tourism a good thing or a bad thing? Before exploring it, I am sure the answer is yes, and no!

 

I think this question is best summed up from Dubai. I went to a souk which was on the main tourist route and was packed with low quality plastic mosques and decorated coffee pots. Most were not locally made. Later in the day I went over the river to a quieter area to see another souk and the whole atmosphere was different. It was much more authentic, selling local good, spices, pot and pans and all sorts.

 

Drawing tourists to the beautiful and fascinating cultures, sites and environments of our world is big business. This bring much needed economic and other benefits. However, it can also affect the integrity and authenticity of the same cultures, sites and environments. It is an interesting balance to see whether the tourist industry is aware of this impact, or whether we of the west (and increasingly many from the far east) have any sense of the impact as well as the benefits of the industry. Whether tourism is a response or a cause, a benefit or a problem, a intrusion or an affirmation is a moot question, but sadly I think it is one that most tourists do not wish to address.

 

 

There is one other reflection under this heading. In most the places where I was being actively hosted my friends took me to see places they thought represented their cities and countries. Almost all said afterwards: I enjoyed that, doing things I don’t do because I live here. I am aware that the same is true of me in London. I make less use of the tourist and arts opportunities when at home than I did when I was away. But it was nice to have fun with lovely people and for them to admit that they had enjoyed it too.

 

 

Hospitality

 

This last thought leads me to my next heading. This has been a theme throughout my sabbatical. So many people have been kind, beyond mere politeness, as I have travelled. I have been hosted and welcomed in each place I have visited and the impact of such caring hospitality is great. Sandy and Jane, Julian, Ishrani, Beth and Tim, Bree and James, Helen and Robert, Anjuli and James. Paul and Vas, Sophy and Trad.  Not to mention the many hotel staff, and of course Caspian, Maya, Ted and Ren, my toddler friends, and others who have been kind to me. I shall be forever grateful for the generous way in which people have welcomed me, without which I would not have been able to pack so much into the time away.

 

Generous hospitality reflects something of the sense of God’s loving welcome extended to each of us through Jesus Christ. I do not impute that onto others as a motive, but reflect that this is how I have received it from others. I have always believed that hospitality is a spiritual gift. It is better to give than to receive, and yet I have been privileged to receive so much from so many. I can never thank them enough for their kindness in giving time to me as I travelled.

 

 

 

My next three themes all relate to my reflections on the world around me as I travelled.

 

 

Environment

 

The theme of environment has been present throughout my travels. National Parks, World Heritage sites and areas of protection and preservation were around me many times.

 

In Florida I visited the Everglades and also the water recycling nature reserves. The flow of water through the Everglades is a vital part of the environmental balance of Florida, and much work has been done to protect and preserve the ecology of the area. I also saw a turtle rescue hospital, another example of people working with the environment.

 

The landscape in Virginia and Niagara was breath-taking and much care is taken to look after it.

 

New Zealand has much unique and endangered fauna and flora. On entry,  after passport control and customs, you have to go through a bio-hazard check to ensure that the environment of the country is protected. They have a very rare and ancient tree which is now subject to a disease which is decimating the North Island area: an example of how the modern world brings its own risks and dangers to the environment in one place or another.

 

 

 

 

There is bio-hazard control over entry in to Australia as well, although less strict. But the last part of my trip there picked up this theme again as I explored the tropical rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef. I recall the horror from one of the reef diving staff when a man who had wet towels and so on asked just before we disembarked whether she had a plastic bag he could borrow. No she said; they are the greatest killers of turtles. She was horrified by the question, which I am sure was asked in all innocence. But it shows how hard our habits are to change. A plastic bag in the ocean looks like a jellyfish and attracts the turtle who then gets stuck and drowns!

 

In some places I stayed in hotels, who all nowadays offer a green policy to change sheets and towels less often for those who are staying for more than one night. The cynic in me wonders how much of that is about environmental policy and how much is budget saving, but the point is there to be made.

 

Another sub theme of the environment is land reclamation. In the Everglades, Auckland, Wellington, Melbourne, Sydney, Singapore, and Dubai I encountered land reclamation schemes in ports and shores and other places. Much time and money is spent not only of preserving what is endangered, but also on allowing our expansions to be more environmentally friendly.

 

This reminded me of the so called 5 Marks of Mission. The fifth one is: to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. It is frequently the least noticed of the 5 marks, so I was glad to be reminded of it as I travelled.

 

 

Space

 

Wherever I have been I was struck by the sense of space. This is in part a function of living in the heart of the City of London.

 

In Florida I was collected from the airport by Sandy and we drove an hour north on the Freeway. It is an eight lane road with plenty of space either side in addition to the road itself. This was where this theme began. We got to Boca Raton, where she lives and everywhere has space around it. The supermarkets are huge, the roads are wide and the sense of being in an open and wide landscape is there even in the urban areas. The Everglades had the same effect on me.

 

Then by train north to Virginia through wide open countryside. Julian lives in a house in the middle of nowhere to my eye but they call it a suburb. (New York was an exception where I walked out of the Penn Station into a City landscape not unlike the west end of London.)

 

Then Niagara. Huge high rise blocks are all there, but the falls are just amazing and open. Toronto has wide roads, although the bit I stayed in was a little grim. As soon as I moved out of the downtown area the roads were again wide and open.

 

Auckland was amazing. I went out into the bay and it was wonderful to see the sights. Then up to Waitangi and the Bay of Islands. Space and views abounded!

 

Then north to Long Bay, for my retreat,  where I walked for miles. Further than I have done in one go for years. The walk overlooked the coast from sandy beaches and cliff tops and I was once again struck by that sense of space. This was compounded by the fact that I was on retreat at Long Bay, so I was also having a different sort of spiritual space at this stage.

 

Then on to Australia. First the City, but then off to Tim and Beth’s farm. I remember standing in the middle of nowhere looking at the stars, and feeling the space and the huge skies. This was even more so on Robert and Helen’s remote farm. The feeling of space continued as we drove across Tasmania, in the harbour at Sydney and as I snorkelled 26km off the coast on the barrier reef. Even in the urban cities of Singapore and Dubai the roads are 8/10/12 lanes wide and space abounds.

 

It was an interesting feeling to return to London and into the closeness of the streets and the buildings. In many ways we live without that sense of space in London. That said, our home is more open than most, with the Guildhall Yard beside it. I sat on the roof terrace while writing this and spotted 7 high rise buildings which have been built in the nine years since I arrived here.

 

 

Water

 

Everywhere I have been has involved water. I have always had a love of being on or near water and it makes me feel close to my spiritual roots.

 

So there was virtually nowhere that did not involve water when you review my blog: Northumberland, the Everglades, the Florida water reclamation parks, the Hudson River, Niagara, Toronto Bay, Auckland Bay, Bay of Islands, Long Bay, Wellington Bay, the River Murrumbidgee, the farms (drought), Sydney Harbour, Singapore’s harbour and reliance on Malaysia for a water supply, Dubai’s canals and Old Father Thames!

 

This led me, on my retreat, to explore the theme of water throughout the bible. In Genesis the Spirit hovers over the waters before creation. Eden contains a river. Ezekiel illustrated salvation as water flowing from the Temple. Jesus offers Living Water to the Samaritan woman in John 4. And in Revelation 22 the throne in heaven has a river of life flowing from it. This flowing water is the spirit of life.

 

The main exception to this living flowing water is in Psalm 23 where the Shepherd leads the sheep beside still waters. That caught my interest. Why does that Psalm, and its familiar water phrase, take a different tack? I had fun exploring this thought.

 

Water quenches thirst, restores and revives. It is the source of life in all its senses. My sabbatical is a life giving time of refreshment and revival, so the water theme is not inappropriate.

 

Perhaps the most poignant observation was Robert’s need for water on the farm and his record keeping and weather watching. But, of course, we must remember there are many in the world for whom water is an even bigger problem than on the farm.

 

This watery theme made it all the more right that my final act before returning to London was a lovely swim in the Persian Gulf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indigenous people

 

Another theme developed as I travelled which had not been part of my prior thinking: indigenous people.

 

It all started, as did most things, in Florida.We went to the Everglades. As you approach the wetlands there are lots of air boat companies. But we pressed on. Eventually we arrived inside the reservation  of the Miccosukee Indians, one of two tribes who were displaced by European settlers into the Everglades. The trip was wonderful and they have a recreation of a tribal village, but do not pretend to live in it. They are the poorer of the two tribes in the Everglades. The other tribe, the Seminole own The Hard Rock Café franchise worldwide and it means they have considerable wealth. But that does not negate the real questions in their history.

 

In Virginia, the history is all about the displacement of the American Indian tribes. There is also much to ask about slavery from Africa. Much of that is ‘denied’ in Virginia, but the questions are there. By this time I could see a theme, especially knowing that I was due in NZ.

 

After the American war of independence, the civil war and the abolition of slavery many people, white and Indian, moved to what was called North Ontario. After they had settled the new Americans tried to move north and another war ensued. More questions about how indigenous people are treated.

 

And so to New Zealand, Waitangi and Maori culture. The country has struggled with the fall out of the 1840 Waitangi treaty and the self understanding of a nation and a church with two cultures. Auckland Cathedral was a mainly white middle class congregation and yet the church has a bi-lingual prayer book. I have discovered that the province has three strands (Pakeha, Maori and Polynesian) , with three sets of congregations, three archbishops and one General Synod. In a way I sensed a culture which was not quite settled in itself as to how to handle the issue and still lives with the tensions of years gone by.

 

Australia has a very different feel to New Zealand. The Aboriginals had been on the land many, many centuries longer than the Maori of New Zealand. There is a different feel culturally.as they are honoured as long time citizens. Yet despite this tensions still continue. People have a sense of the history of the ancient cultures. It is not clear how much of this is real and how much is a perceived duty.

 

Next stop was Singapore. It is difficult to define indigenous in Singapore, but ethnic issues are still there. Since the Independence in 1965 there has been a strict rule in the HBD (Housing Board Developments) which make up a huge proportions on the housing on the Island. The population is about 80% Chinese, with smaller percentages of Malay, Indian, Arab, and Others. There is a strict rule that the occupancy of the HBD must match that percentage breakdown. There seems to be a happy understanding that this makes for balanced and integrated communities, but whether it would work in such a top down way in the UK is doubtful. The idea of an advert saying ‘no Chinese’ is very odd to our UK ears.

 

Dubai also has an interesting ethnic mix. The Emiratis, the local nationals, only make up about 10% of the population, but weald great power and influence in the way that everything operates.

 

 

 

To settle on a view or comment on these issues would be too easy and would diminish the struggles which lie behind and at the heart of them. It was good to note this worldwide issue and to know that it is not that different in the UK in the sense of trying to struggle with a new (or more accurately renewed) multi-cultural make up and immigration issues, Brexit and its implications as to who we are, and so on.

 

During my writing week the Pride Flag was flown at Guildhall for the first time. Another example of evolving themes around diversity and ethnicity the world over.

 

At the heart of all this is the theology of person. If we believe that God loves every person equally and Christ died for the whole world, how did we get to the point of damaging or obliterating cultures to create colonies? How can we hold our head up as a church when we have been complicit in such things over the centuries? What are the current examples of similar behaviour within our church today? Will we look back on the issues of women bishops and gay marriage with the same sense of self doubt as to the efficacy of our current position and debates? I cannot answer that question.

 

 

Life and work balance

 

I have been away and enjoyed everything I encountered. I put work aside and was doing something different. After years of working 70 hour weeks non-stop I changed pace and lived a different pattern of life. Now back in London writing this I am back in the thick of things, which I also still enjoy. Within this week back before starting work officially there have been events on the Yard, sleepless nights as the air-con unit on Guildhall is going wrong again, someone was doing overnight work nearby on Monday and we could not sleep, although I never worked out what they were doing. Later in the week Sue and I have to de-camp to a local hotel for two nights due to a massive event which needs set up and set down overnight. I have also been in correspondence with the team organising a major cycle event which will circumnavigate the church as to how we can get the car out and onto the main roads on the day we leave for a family holiday.

 

I have from time to time described being in the City as living in a bubble. It can be a noisy, busy stressful bubble at times. Bishop Richard always stated he understood this of his City clergy. It is difficult to avoid the fact that life around you is moving at such a pace, that everyone looks stressed and tired, and that the clergy of the City absorb some of that stress, even when trying to model a different pattern of ‘being’ through faith.

 

As I reflected on this in my time away and from the changed pace of my sabbatical I came to the conclusion that there is no simple solution. To serve those who live the City lifestyle, one has to enter into their territory. That ‘living in the situation’ has always been part of our Anglican understanding of being the church. It has its price, but knowing this is the start of surviving it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

While I was on retreat at Long Bay I read a book called The bad Christian’s Manifesto by Rev’d Dave Tomlinson, Vicar St Luke Holloway. Its odd that I discovered it in New Zealand when it is written by a colleague who works about 3 miles away from my home. His summary of his manifesto, expounded in each chapter one line at a time, is as follows:

 

 

 

To follow the way of Jesus rather than rules and conventions.

To doubt and question WITHOUT fear, and never be daunted by orthodoxies and authority figures.

To make a priority of kindness and compassion, and peruse justice for all people.

To embrace messiness and imperfection while aspiring to be all that we can.

To live courageously, and resist being motivated by guilt or fear.

To love the world and honour it as God’s body.

To have parties, laugh often, enjoy friends and welcome strangers.

To resist passing judgement, and befriend people in the margins.

To look for God in every person and situation.

 

 

David Parrott

July 2018

 

 


Sabbatical 2018
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