Sabbatical, Day 43: Worshipping, Not Drowning

This morning I headed off to church on my own. Debbie and the children went swimming. There were a few reasons behind this parting of the ways. Firstly, when I’m not sabbaticalling, the Sunday School at Broomfield is only alternate Sundays. Debbie doesn’t feel she can make the children sit through an adult service regularly, so she began taking them for fun swims to boost their skills. Yesterday, they said they wanted to go to the pool again.

A second reason would be that I’m still uneasy about missing worship for anything other than illness. I attribute that to my upbringing in a church family. There is something positive about keeping the Sabbath that is important to me. I’m going to find it hard next Sunday: not only is it Mothering Sunday, it is also Rebekah’s birthday, and I know there will be pressure for us to miss church and go out somewhere.

But there is a third reason. I can’t swim.

I had some lessons at school, but at primary school they were scuppered by a traumatic experience. I saw my best friend held under the water. That did things inside a seven-year-old’s mind, and I never recovered. Going onto secondary school at eleven, the games teacher was the macho sort who was aggressively unsympathetic to any boy who couldn’t swim. All he did was haul me across the width of the pool by a rope.

I’ve never seriously revisited the issue. When Debbie and I were on honeymoon, we spent a few days at an hôtel with a pool and she offered to help me learn. Since it was her, I didn’t mind. But I just couldn’t grasp it.

Every now and again, she asks me to take adult lessons. I feel there are so many fear barriers I would have to cross. One is whether I would be humiliated again by a teacher. Another is how I would cope without my glasses on. (I’m not a suitable case for contact lenses – long story.) And some other things. Yet I am one who stands in a pulpit and tells people that Jesus can help them through the painful memories of their past. One day, I’ll have to find a way of dealing with this. Right now, I’m not sure how. I only know it will have to be gentle.

As for the worship, one or two parts really struck me, not least the Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent:

Almighty God, 
whose most dear Son went not up to joy
but first he suffered pain,
and entered not into glory before he was crucified,
mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross,
may find it none other than the way of life and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

How many times have I heard those words? How often have I read the biblical passages on which they are based, not least Paul’s words in Philippians, where he wants to know Christ and the power of the resurrection, but only through ‘fellowship in his sufferings’? Today, however, they were a living word for me, making sense of the down times and the dry spells since coming to Chelmsford. Perhaps these will prove to be ‘the way of the cross’ and that hope is coming.

It certainly tied in with what Paul, the vicar, preached about. He changed the Lectionary Epistle reading and preached about how we can face darkness as Christians. He should know. As he said publicly on this occasions, and has said before, he has battled depression for thirty years. It was an honest and hopeful word.

One lovely thing today, and one sadness. The former came this afternoon, when we took the children out to a playground in a local park. There, Rebekah saw someone from school. He is permanently in a wheelchair, but had been at the swimming pool this morning. He had thought Rebekah must be in Year 3 (she’s in Year 1). She asked if we could go and speak with him and his grandparents. We made a new friend, someone we can now speak to when we see him at the school. All because Rebekah made the overture of friendship. She’s learning missional before she’s six.

The sadness was to learn that another couple we know are separating. That is three couples is less than a year. Two of the couples are Christian families. Our hearts now go out to this couple, and to their children. Our prayers go up for their pain.


  1. Great post Dave, I love the way that young children are so open with others, good for Rebekah.

    As for the swimming thing, I can’t empathise because I swim like a fish and have done from a young age, but I do understand the paralysing fears that prevent us from doing things, some of those memories sound horrific.

    As for worship, I have the benefit and loss of not being brought up in a “Church” family, no guilt trips, but sometimes the discipline of attending worship regularly slips if I am not leading, and so I loose the joy and benefit of worship. Life is an odd mixture isn’t it!?


  2. I can swim, but I’m in that same re:church and kids (I have a 5 & a 7 year old and church doesn’t effectively have a sunday school apart from AAW, community monthly AAW and a messy church).

    I still feel awkward in missing church if I’m not leading worship… Yet I did for a few weeks of my sabbatical last year and it felt strange- at first I couldn’t bear going and then it I wanted to go.

    Congratualtions on blogging every day on your sabbatical- again that was something that I just could not manage.


    1. Graham,

      Thanks for the comment and welcome here! I’ve just had a look at your blog – I can feel it creeping into my Google Reader.

      Church with young children is a painful dilemma today in ways it probably wasn’t in previous generations. I’ve heard some parents of youngsters accused of not being committed to church because they weren’t always there every week.

      I’ve managed to blog every day of the sabbatical so far, because the time pressures have been easier. Next week, however, it may be more difficult. I shall be away Monday to Friday at a place where there is no wifi to my knowledge and I may need to get off site to find anywhere that mobile broadband will be able to pick up a signal. And I doubt the daily blogging will continue when I’m back doing minister stuff again in May. I can but hope, of course … 🙂


  3. It is possible to blog everyday- I didn’t think it would be…. late at night when I can’t think straight, I throw a few bits in draft on the site….or if I’m working and I need a 5 minute ‘break’ I throw a few bits on. Then in my short reading time after praying, I redraft…

    I’m getting round to thinking that part of my ordination vows involved reading and this is a creative way of doing part of that task….


    1. I’ve thought of a way to keep the daily blogs up next week while I’m potentially out of wifi or mobile broadband range. I’ve finished reading Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody and will schedule some posts on that to appear while I’m away. I don’t know how those ministers who do blog every day manage it.


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