Sabbatical, Day 29: From Mountain To Valley With A Bump

So we roused Mark at 9 pm yesterday. Despite the pain in his ear, he protested that he wanted to go back to sleep rather than see a doctor. Eventually, half way to the hospital (where the out of hours GP service is located), he began to be half-awake enough to view the trip as an adventure. 

Arriving in the car park, we were still stung at that time to the tune of £3.50 for the privilege of leaving the car in a mostly empty facility. Thanks, Broomfield Hospital. You’re so kind.

Entering the waiting room at 9:20 with an appointment time of 9:40, I let Mark snuggle up to me as I noticed more than twenty minutes go by before anyone else was called into a consulting room. I calculated that with the number of people in front of us, we would probably only get to see a medic around 10:20 – 10:30. For me, the time was passing almost as slowly as it would for a child, and I invoked my interest in Maths to occupy my brain, just as I sometimes stimulate myself on a long car journey by periodically calculating my average speed to two or three decimal points. Did someone say ‘Sad’?

I gathered only one doctor was on duty, but while we were there one more began a shift, as did an advanced nurse practitioner. The pace thus sped up, and just after 10 Mark was called in. We trotted into see the nurse practitioner, along with his Favourite Bear. (He gives his cuddly toys descriptions rather than names.)

Sure enough, it was a routine ear infection and so out came another bottle of amoxicillin, or ‘banana medicine’ as Mark calls it. I wonder whether you can guess the flavour. 🙂

On the way home, he was chatty if still tired, but was very taken by the experience. He said that in future when he was ill he wanted to alternate between seeing ‘Chelmsford doctors’ (by which he meant our GP surgery) and ‘hospital doctors’.

Of course, he didn’t realise that he had seen ‘hospital doctors’ when he was a baby – not only when he was born, but when the root cause of his permanently screaming the manse down was discovered. No, not the shock of having me for a father: he had been born with an inguinal hernia. Diagnosis only happened at seven weeks, after several incidents when Debbie had taken refuge with large glasses of sherry on nights when I was out at church meetings. He had surgery at ten weeks. 

This morning, Debbie took Rebekah to church while I stayed home with Mark. He has picked up considerably, but he has a week of banana medicine ahead of him and although he has been quite bouncy today, we’re keeping him off school tomorrow. 

If I’ve done any thinking about the sabbatical today, it’s just been a temporary musing of the problem of re-entry that awaits me in two months’ time. I’ve had two mountain-top experiences already, and while the church usually aims to ease ministers back in post-sabbatical, it didn’t happen to me last time and I don’t suppose it will this time.

Last time, the circumstances were exceptional: the circuit treasurer had failed to apply for the release of some funds. Realising his mistake, he had put thousands of his own money into the circuit accounts, leaving us the recipients of an unauthorised loan. He was one of my church members, and a decent guy in many ways.

But what exercises me this time is the adjustment to ‘normal church life’. I think it was A W Tozer who once observed that the spiritual temperature in many churches is so low that when someone turns up with a normal, New Testament ‘temperature’, they treat that person as if they have a fever.

Now let me quickly qualify that. I’m again aware how easy it is at a point like this to slip into a judgmental attitude. I can only assure you I don’t mean that, just as I also don’t mean anyone reading this to assume I’m painting myself as the one with the normal spiritual temperature. I’m struggling for language to express the dilemma, and I expect and hope you know what I’m driving at. In a desire to be accepting, inclusive and indeed avoid judgmentalism we have tolerated a low temperature in our churches. There have been many times over the years when I have felt that slowly suck the life out of me. In such circumstances, regular outside support is vital. Sometimes it’s easy to come by, but not always. Even when it is available, it emphasises the disconnect painfully, and has to be channelled into a passion for change.

In other news: I’ve been wading through the five hundred emails that were in the inbox when I returned. Among the gems was yet another article from the wonderful Ruth Haley Barton. I realise this one on Ash Wednesday is now four days late, but you might still gain something from her reflections, or at very least note it for next year. 

And on that positive note, it’s goodnight from me.


  1. “There have been many times over the years when I have felt that slowly suck the life out of me. In such circumstances, regular outside support is vital. Sometimes it’s easy to come by, but not always. Even when it is available, it emphasises the disconnect painfully, and has to be channelled into a passion for change.”

    David, I can’t stop reading these words. They really speak to me. Thank you.


  2. I’m glad to hear that Mark is feeling better.. he hasn’t had it easy, has he?
    I know the feeling you are trying to describe and wonder why we can’t manage to connect with others who have ‘the fever’, so that we don’t feel it ‘being sucked out’ of us?


    1. Thanks, Olive. We’ve kept Mark off school today, even though he looks quite bright. We want to ensure the ear infection really does go away this time. We won’t send him for his weekly lesson with the swimming school on Wednesday, nor will we permit him to have his school swimming lesson on Thursday. The nurse practitioner was very clear with me on Saturday night that we must keep his ear covered up and warm. Swimming wouldn’t help that. We trust the school will be sympathetic. His teacher certainly was this morning when Debbie spoke to her.

      As to your other comment, we obviously need to create some conduit for contagion!


  3. Two sabbatical-related thoughts. First, one of the points of the sabbatical is to be there for your family in a way which normal circuit ministry often precludes. Your references to “sabbatical work” gives me the impression that you feel you’re losing the balance you wanted. Don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring! It should return to normal at some point – and if it doesn’t, so what?

    Second, about re-entry. Our District has a sabbatical committee, and we invite everyone who has a sabbatical to report back afterwards. Not only does it feed into the thinking of those planning their sabbaticals, but it helps us to identify problems. Re-entry is a problem – having heard several tales of ministers returning to a clutch of funerals, stressful crises, etc, we advised that on return from sabbatical you book a holiday! Even if it’s just a few days off, about 2-4 weeks after coming back to work,take time out to get your breath back. Hearing subsequent reports (and having done it myself last year) I can say it is good advice.

    Most importantly, enjoy where you are now – even with sick kids, you are on sabbatical, you’re not having to dash out to committees and things, you can be there for them. Let the study take its place in the queue.


    1. Tony,

      Thanks for your wisdom. I guess I felt like no study whatsoever was being done, and I was so looking forward to that!

      As to re-entry, I wish I’d had the advice you gave when my sabbatical support group was meeting. We were aware that prior to the sabbatical beginning I would have taken only one of my five weeks off for the year, and it was felt wrong that I should go off again a few weeks after returning. Hence I ended up tacking the second of my five weeks onto the end of the sabbatical, and I’m taking three weeks in August.


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