I’m lucky enough to be working in a church that includes their educator in the sabbatical policy. The policy provides that after six years, one is granted a three-month sabbatical. I decided to take mine in the fall—after all the Rally Day festivities and fall planning were done.
The highlight of my sabbatical time was two weeks in Ireland. I traveled with my sister, and a theme of ‘castles, churches, and crosses’ emerged as we made our plans. We visited six castles—the most impressive being Muckross House, just outside Killarney. Muckross House is still a working farm, producing woolens and dairy products. It has amazing gardens, still in bloom in late October.
We also visited eight churches, varying in size from the small chapel at Holy Hill to the large St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. By far my favorite was Abbey Presbyterian Church in Dublin. The roots of this congregation date back to 1660. The current sanctuary was built in 1864 by Alex Findlater as a gift to the congregation. There were rumblings of dissent about his gift since he made his fortune as a wine merchant—and that apparently offended the sensibilities of some members of the church. But it is a beautiful church, much more ornate than most Presbyterian churches; Mr. Findlater wanted it to rival St. Patrick’s in its beauty.
As we traveled around Ireland, we looked for the high crosses. These are stone crosses, many dating back to the 800s. It is quite awe-inspiring to stand beside and touch something that was constructed so long ago and to feel connected to those faithful from ages past. As we walked the grounds of Monasterboice , we could almost feel the cloud of witnesses who had graced those premises in centuries past.
The centerpiece of our time in Ireland was four days at Holy Hill Hermitage in Sligo, a retreat center run by an order in the Carmelite tradition of simplicity, prayer, and work. We spent our time there in contemplative prayer and meditation, availing ourselves of the library and chapel. The themes of water, fire, and earth, prevalent in Celtic spirituality, were evident in the gardens, the creek running alongside the property, and the fire pit in the center courtyard. I found great peace in wandering and praying my way around the grounds. For me Holy Hil Hermitage became a “thin place” where my spirit met the eternal.
My time of sabbatical was refreshing, invigorating, and reenergizing. I returned the first Sunday in Advent, physically and spiritually ready for new challenges.
Priscilla Andre-Colton is a certified Christian Educator in the PC (USA), serving the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, VA. She previously served churches in Pittsburgh, PA and Jacksonville, FL. She is currently secretary for APCE.