The Sabbatical


In the church there is this thing called "Sabbatical". The idea is that every seven years you take one year off for study. Kind of like God having a rest after creating the world. A bit presumptuous, I know, but we clergy do think we are "saving the world". It's what makes us such "pains-in-the-neck". Anyway, Sabbaticals are a great idea, the only trouble is you have to finance them, a rather difficult prospect on a cleric's stipend. Having served 14 years at the Parish of Helensburgh, South of Sydney, I was due for my Sabbatical. A double Sabbatical in my calculations, although as it turned out, one year was all we had.

In preparation for the Sabbatical we needed a house to reside in. I owned a boatshed on the Hawkesbury River, but my wife Doreen, bless her heart, didn't want to spend a year in a boatshed. So we sold up and and went looking for a little highlands cottage.

We chose an excellent time to go looking for real estate. It was 1988, just at the top of the Sydney land boom. It's amazing how you can just pick the worst possible moment in history to make a move on real estate. "Infernal games" I call them. The "little bloke" having fun with us again. Actually, it's generally my own stupidity that gets me into trouble, but it's great to be able to blame an infernal diety. In disgust we drove out of Sydney to see if the boom stopped somewhere out there. As it turned out, it did. Goulburn was fairly quiet, as was Canberra, but then, who wants to live at Goulburn or Canberra?

We saw this sign to Braidwood. Well now, I remembered Braidwood. Many years ago, in my misspent youth, I had cut eucalyptus there. What a job that was! It was in the middle of winter. We lived in an uninsulated tin shed and ate hogget stew with whole black-pepper for breakfast, dinner and tea. Oh yes, I remember Braidwood. So we drove out there. Loved the town, loved the Church, and there was this wonderful little cottage on an acre of land just behind the Church and they wanted $80,000 for it, just what we had to spend. Was it a sign? Yes it was, a real estate sign, not the other type.

The move to our country cottage took place in November 1989. Anonymity! I had forgotten what anonymity was like. I was no longer the local clergyman, and the "little lady who lived with the minister" was no longer the "Rector's wife". Anonymity! We could just blend into the countryside. We had our kind of "Mount Transfiguration" where we could get away from the hubbub, the push-and-shove, from the "occasioned stare". I went down to the hardware shop later that week and the bloke behind the counter said, "are you the clergyman who has bought the Draper's house on the hill?" So much for anonymity! I didn't even know our house was on a hill, but it was, a kind of gentle rise above the "push". As for who owned the house, I didn't know his name was Draper, but then the "draper" he was talking about was the local draper who built in it 1920. I think this is called oral tradition. As for the death of our short-lived anonymity, that is called the "parish-pump telegraph".

On Sunday we went to church. Strange for a clergyman to sit in a pew and watch the "game" from the other side of the fence. Now I am an Evangelical, a Low church Evangelical. I'm not sure what that means now, but anyway that's what I am. Mind you, many others don't think that's what I am, and they may be right, since, as I said, who knows what it means? I know Jesus as my friend, and I suspect that "when the roll is called up yonder" having Jesus as our friend is all that matters. There's this bloke I have known now for thirty years. He wouldn't know what the inside of a church looked like - a wild boy indeed. Yet Jesus is his mate, and that's all that matters. Anyway, the minister at Braidwood (they call them "priests" there) was High church. The bloke who followed him (he liked to be called "father") was Anglo Catholic - kind of more Catholic than Roman Catholic. Now this was all a bit of a shock for yours truly, the Low Churchman. Yet guess what? These blokes loved Jesus too. I was actually quite amazed, when it came down to the line all the stuff about robes, incense, chanting..... all the stuff that divides Christians, was no barrier to those who are Jesus' friends.

The good "father" knew how to play "the game". A great performer! The moves were practised. Inside the Church there was artistry. Outside! well, for example, there was his street ministry. Every morning he walked up the main street of Braidwood to get his newspaper, and in a booming voice he greeted everyone in sight. He was the perfect ambassador for Christ. The difference between him and most of our lot was that he knew it was theatre, but did it well, whereas we think it's real and end up doing it like cringing amateurs. What is real? Reality is the substance within the performance played out on the broadwalk of life - mere actors playing our part. The heartfelt momentary bond between we desperate players in this divine comedy. The touch of love, identity, meaning, carried in a tear.

We dug the garden, painted the house, renovated the kitchen, extended the home, fenced the property and again I built another workshop and another workbench. And yes, once restored and our Sabbatical concluded, we sold the house. Why, I ask myself? Is it to fulfill my father's prophecy? ("Bryan, you are an itchy bum.") Never are we satisfied, but then of course, no real estate here can satisfy. The psalmist identified the problem when he said "my soul finds rest in God alone". Ah yes, no satisfaction here.

Sabbatical concluded, study and paper on the Grace of God completed. Farewell Braidwood, welcome Cronulla!

[Pumpkin Cottage]