Lord our God, whose care and love reach to the furthermost parts of the earth, grant that we may be bound together in this time of sabbatical, learning and growing in new ways, so that we may move together into the future you have prepared for us. Defend Craig and Meta from all dangers of soul and body, and grant that both they and we may be supported by your love in the communion of your Holy Spirit, and in the fellowship of your saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Follow Craig and Meta on their journey from a firsthand experience through their words. Click here for Meta’s blog.
Below are a list of links that provide information about the areas that Craig and Meta are visiting during their journey.
On February 4, Meta and I leave for a nineteen-week-long sabbatical. We do so with great excitement and a certain amount of trepidation. We leave behind family, friends, and the many parishioners at St. Peter’s. We also leave behind all those things that we still have to do, those endless chores and tasks that seem to keep us perpetually busy. I am sure that you know what I am talking about. It seems like there is always something to be done and that we are never finished with all of the tasks, big and small, that fill our days.
The idea of taking a sabbatical from work is deeply rooted in the biblical call to balance work and rest (“Sabbath” in Hebrew). The story of creation tells how God worked for six days and then took a day of rest. The Torah calls all who follow the Lord God of Israel to model their lives on this plan-this balance of work and rest. The requirement for Sabbath rest was more than the admonition to take a day off each week. It was to be applied to every area and aspect of human life, even agriculture. For six years a field was allowed to be cultivated but in the seventh year it was to lie fallow so that the land could rest and be renewed (Leviticus 25: 2-6). A sabbatical from work is comparable to letting the field of one’s life lie fallow for a time so that new and renewed life can emerge from it.
As we begin this sabbatical in the seventh year of my time at St. Peter’s, I must admit that I have no idea what rest really means. I know how to work until I am exhausted and then collapse, but I am not sure that I know the real meaning of rest. Perhaps none of us today really does. While I cannot tell you now what sabbatical rest and renewal look like, Meta and I hope to be able to give you a description of it on our return and share what we have learned with you.
Sabbaticals taken from work are not as common as they once were. Where once people from many different occupations took regular sabbatical time off from work, now sabbaticals are mostly given to professors and clergy. On their sabbaticals, professors are supposed to write books for publication-so it is only a rest from teaching, not from work. Clergy sabbaticals are time set aside from the work of the parish to allow for genuine rest, renewal, and transformation to take place. Rest and renewal are often undervalued, primarily because they cannot be seen to produce anything of monetary value. We often forget, however, that they do produce something of spiritual value.
People often ask us what we plan to do on our upcoming sabbatical. Meta and I first had to answer that question when we applied for a grant from the Lilly Endowment. The central question the endowment asks applicants to its Clergy Renewal Program is, “What will make your heart sing?” Meta and I, along with the grant committee we formed, had to answer that question keeping two things in mind. First, we had to figure out what would make our hearts sing. What did we want to do? Where did we want to go? And how would we go about it? Second, we had to ask ourselves how the parish would benefit from our sabbatical. That was the more difficult question. The Lilly Endowment made it clear that while the sabbatical grant application had to demonstrate how the sabbatical might benefit Meta and me, at the same time they did not want the sabbatical to look like work. If you want money to write a book, they cautioned, look elsewhere for funding. After months of discussion Meta and I decided that what would make our hearts sing would be traveling and going places together. The next difficult decision was where we were going to go.
The committee decided to divide the sabbatical into two parts. One part of our sabbatical is to be something that would be of help to the diocese but also be in keeping with the focus on mission that we have at St. Peter’s. In this first part of our sabbatical we will spend time in Ghana and in England. In 2006 Bishop Lee appointed me to the Triangle of Hope, a collaborative Anglican initiative to explore the legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and work for reconciliation between dioceses historically involved in that trade-the Diocese of Virginia, the Diocese of Liverpool, and Anglican Dioceses in West Africa.
When Bishop Daniel Sarfo of the Diocese of Kumasi in Ghana came to Virginia to commemorate the 400th Anniversary of the first Anglican Eucharist at Jamestown, he invited Meta and me to visit Ghana so that we could continue to foster a deeper understanding and respect between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Ghana. While in Ghana we will be in residence at St. Nicholas Theological Seminary in Cape Coast, Ghana. It is our hope that living and teaching in Ghana will connect us to Anglicans in West Africa and that we will learn from them and they from us.
Continuing the first part of our sabbatical we will travel to England, where we will be in residence at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, a seminary on the outskirts of Oxford. I am hoping to spend a good deal of time reading rare books in the Duke Humphrey’s library of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University and at the British Library in London.
In the late 1990s I taught a graduate course at Temple University in colonial and postcolonial theory. At that time I became interested in the descriptions that 16th- and 17th-century European travelers gave of the religions and customs of the people they visited, particularly in India and West Africa. Following this interest, I traveled annually for a number of years to England to spend time in the rare book rooms at the Bodleian Library in Oxford and the British Library in London, developing a love of rare books that I seldom have time to indulge. Our experiences in Ghana will give new meaning to those travel narratives, while being in Oxford will allow me to read those books in the libraries that inspire me.
While we are in the U.K. we also hope to travel to Liverpool to deepen personal ties and make new friends so that we can help further the development and success of the Triangle of Hope project.
In the second phase of the sabbatical, Meta and I plan to explore the world of the early Christian Church in the Eastern part of the late Roman Empire. In the months of April and May we will travel around Greece and Turkey. Our exact itineraries are not yet fully in place for this part of our trip. In Greece we plan to visit Thessaloniki and Athens and a number of early Christian and Byzantine sites. In Turkey we plan to spend time in Istanbul, Ephesus and Izmir. While in Thessaloniki, I will leave Meta for a few days so that I can visit the Eastern Orthodox monasteries on Mount Athos. I received permission from the Patriarch of Constantinople allowing me to visit the “Holy Mountain.” We plan to take photographs that can be used in teaching on the New Testament and Early Christian history and literature when I return to St. Peter’s. At the conclusion of the sabbatical our youngest son, Andrew, who is now 24, will join us for a vacation in the Greek Isles, where I am looking forward to visiting Santorini.
My love of early Christian literature and art goes back to my undergraduate majors in Religious Studies (Late Ancient Christianity) and Classics. While working on my M. Div. at Harvard Divinity School I also took course work in ancient Syriac and Byzantine history. Meta majored in Art History at Brown, and while I was a divinity student she took a few courses on Greek, Roman, Medieval and Byzantine art.
Both by breaking new ground in fostering the goals of the Triangle of Hope and by reacquainting myself with two areas of long-held interest, those of colonial and postcolonial travelogues and the early Christian period in the Aegean and in Asia Minor, I hope to return to St. Peter’s in June rested, refreshed, and re-equipped for ministry. Our time spent in Ghana and England may lead to more mission opportunities for St. Peter’s, and our time spent in Greece and Turkey may yield material for further adult education about early Christianity. All the benefits of the “fallow time” represented by the whole sabbatical cannot be specified in advance, but will flow from the personal and spiritual renewal that true rest allows.
Meta and I are extremely thankful for the opportunity afforded by the Lilly Endowment grant to grow in Christ in ways that we can only imagine as we embark on this period of rest. We are equally thankful for the warm support of the members of St. Peter’s who have worked with us to make the sabbatical a reality. We look forward to our return in June and the opportunity to share with each of you our experiences as we resume our life in Arlington.
Yours in Christ,
The Rev. Craig A. Phillips