Chelmsford Cathedral
The Dean writes...

I’ve just got back from four months away – three months of extended study leave and a month’s holiday. It has been an extraordinary time and I want to start by saying a huge thank you to those who have made it possible: first Bishop Stephen, and the clergy team here at the Cathedral; to the Cathedral Chapter and our acting Administrator. And to those who supported the study leave financially – the Farmington Institute at Harris Manchester College, Oxford; the Diocese of Chelmsford and the All Churches Trust. And of course I owe a huge debt to my family for their support.

I spent the first two months back in Oxford as a guest of Harris Manchester College. I used much of this to catch up on some serious reading and to brush up on my New Testament Greek. I’m particularly grateful to Father Nick King SJ (who has recently published a fresh translation of the whole Bible from Greek into English) for his time and supervision.

But because of the space college gave me, this also became a time of deeper and deeper silence; an opportunity to spend extended time in prayer; focussed more and more on simply being there, the value of the time measured less and less by outcomes and more and more by the deepening of the journey.  At weekends, Christine joined me in Oxford (and indeed over time all our children came to stay and even my brother!) Christine and I had a great to time re-discovering the city together, and it was a delight to worship weekly at the University Church where we first met as students back in the 1980s.

We spent Christmas and New Year abroad – a highly unusual experience. This was technically holiday but our base for Christmas itself was the ecumenical monastic community at Taizé in Burgundy. We then all drove over the Alps to spend New Year with our relatives in Ljubljana. Another amazing time, with temperatures rarely above minus 8 degrees! While the rest of the family flew back to Stansted, I spent two days having a wonderful drive back through the Austrian Alps and then right up the mighty German autobahn system – arriving at Dunkirk six hours early for my ferry home!

The final part of extended study leave – and very much planned in this order – has been the full Ignatian Spiritual Exercises at St Beuno’s Jesuit Retreat Centre in North Wales (where the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins trained). This is essentially a thirty day silent retreat focussed on many hours of daily meditation on Scripture. I have made an eight day version of this retreat but the 30 day version is very much a once in a life-time event.

And so it has been – building very much on the time in Oxford, going on a deeper and deeper journey into silence, solitude and stillness. It has been like having the earth scooped out from in front of you and being invited to go deeper still. An experience not measured by its outcomes but which for me will resonate powerfully over the coming months and years.

It is great to be back here in Chelmsford. Thank you again for the gift of time over the last four months. But rather like a deep sea diver coming up to the surface, I may be a little unsteady on my feet for a while!




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