~Times and Seasons~
“God changes times and seasons, deposes kings and sets up kings;
God gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those
who have understanding.”
Dear Members and Friends,
It is indeed a joy to be together with you again at Bower Hill Church! My sabbatical, described below, was a tremendous joy as well. I’m grateful to you for the gift of time off—time to ponder, to pray, to concentrate on my faith and my family. Still, it’s good to be back. You might know that I’m one of three pastors in Mt. Lebanon who went on sabbatical this past summer. Getting caught up has been a challenge. Even as I write this article, I’ve missed the newsletter deadline. It’s already the first day of autumn, and I’m looking back fondly on one of the best summers in my ministry. Many of you have questions about how I spent this past season, but by the time you read these words, my sabbatical presentation to the adult class will be over. Here’s a brief synopsis for anyone who missed it:
My sabbatical began on June 1 and ended on August 25—although I did not return to the pulpit till September 4. It was perfect. Nothing went according to plan. Not. One. Thing. But it was perfect anyway. It was planned in three parts: a writing retreat in Colorado; a trip with the family to Cameroon (where I served as a PCUSA missionary for five years in the 90s); and finally a “vision quest” alone in the woods.
The time in Colorado was spent at the vacation home of our members Dick and Kate Junker—to whom I am more than grateful. While there, I had originally intended to prepare a collection of my sermons for publication, as well as tackling the rudimentary beginnings of a memoir of the Africa years. But the first task took up so much time that I never got around to the second. And yet, Colorado was beautiful and inspiring.
The trip to Cameroon was really the centerpiece of the sabbatical. I spent half a decade in that country and left abruptly in 2000. While I was living there, I took in a street child who is now grown up with children of his own—the oldest of which bears my name! Francois was baptized on Christmas Day 1996 and became a very zealous person of faith. He is now a very well-known preacher with a huge following in Cameroon, France, Canada, and even among African immigrants in the States. I wanted very much for my family to know him and his family. But alas, I tested positive with COVID the night before we were to travel, and so the trip did not happen. He had me scheduled for many preaching and speaking assignments while in country—one of which I did from my dining room at 3:00 a.m. on Facebook Live. (Longest sermon of my career, 48 minutes!) We went to Chautauqua instead—which was nice, but a poor substitute.
The third part of the trip was a “vision quest,” which meant getting into the woods alone for an extended period of time. I tackled the 84-mile Standing Stone Trail in the middle of the state, but after about 40 miles, I was turned back by drought. Instead, I went to a place where it always rains: The Roaring Plains Wilderness Area in West Virginia, where I prayed without ceasing and saw not another soul for days and days.
That’s the sabbatical in a nutshell. The greatest thing of all was the gift of time. And although it didn’t go according to plan, it was perfect. I guess that’s God’s perfect, not mine. I’m grateful to you for the gift of Sabbath. I’ll be talking to you about it for a long time to come.
In Christ’s Peace,