Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Or, maybe, better said by the rock band Chicago “Even lovers need a holiday; Far away from each other.”
For 38 year-old music loving minister, Reverend Rob Hill, a six-week holiday away from his parishioners, his church and his neighborhood has him singing a new tune, helping to reignite his passion for a city.
Reverend Hill is the pastor of Broadmeadow United Methodist Church, a congregation in the top of Fondren, founded in the mid 1950’s. He’s been their pastor for eight years.
It was prior to the beginning of that eighth year that Reverend Hill applied for a Lilly Endowment, a paid clergy leave through the United Methodist Conference. But he didn’t get the grant. “One of the things I thought when I got the rejection was that my world may be ruined,” Reverend Hill recounts. “But it wasn’t, and that was the good news.”
While he remembers being sad for a moment, Reverend Hill says the rejection gave him pause to reflect. “It set me on a path to discern the future of my church and my own journey. And I did consider seeking another appointment, maybe beyond Mississippi. What I came to was that I felt called to return.”
The Forest, Miss. native approached church leaders who wholeheartedly approved time away, two months even, though Reverend Hill only took six weeks. Raising his own expenses, a large portion through the generosity of parishioners, friends and community colleagues, Hill set off for Europe earlier this summer and returned last week.
For a time, Dublin was the destination. It’s where Reverend Hill recalls meeting an Irishman over a beverage in a bar. What started as a conversation of pleasantries ended with the man telling of an ailing wife. “Pray for her, will you?” he asked of the pilgrim.
Some time in Paris followed and then, a bus trip through Scotland where Reverend Hill explored with travelers from Malaysia, Australia, Brazil and beyond. He recounts the experience in a journal entry from the ride:
“It’s funny how in some ways I wanted this part of sabbatical to be a solitary journey but bus travel isn’t conducive to that goal. Eventually, someone needs help getting up steps, a sick passenger requires care, a conversation over a meal turns into friendship and, all of the sudden, community forms. …Maybe it all symbolizes something much deeper?
Perhaps it is that while one can plant his or herself on the other side of the ocean, one can never totally retreat from calling and vocation. The moral of the story is this: I think I just traded congregations for a bit, and I’ve discovered that’s not a bad thing at all.”
The final leg of Reverend Hill’s journey would be Iona, an island off the coast of Scotland. In Celtic spirituality, it’s known as a “thin place”, a spot where the Reverend says you can feel closer to God and seek a wonderful spiritual encounter. And, in many ways, Reverend Hill did. In another post from his journal, he remembers his “predicament”:
“I’m ‘stuck’ on the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne today on the Northumberland coast of England. I say stuck because the bus which brought me here at 11 am doesn’t come back until 6:30 pm or so. It’s all because the tide comes in and covers the causeway preventing travel for several hours. Thus the wait.
With no intention of staying that long, I asked a woman, “What will I do here for over seven hours?” And she replied in her Northern England accent, “Who says you have to DO anything? Put one foot in front of the other and see where it takes you. It’s lovely here, you know?”
With plans thrown to the waves, Reverend Hill says the idea of a sabbatical took on its truest meaning.
“There is no goal and there should never be a real goal. Sabbatical means rest and it’s something we don’t do well, but we’re all called to do,” he explains. “I wanted that rest, but I’m renewed for the work I need to now do.”
Reverend Hill says he missed home, his friends and his parishioners. “(The trip) made me appreciate them and has revived my commitment to reconnect and to build relationships that are already there,” he says. “But, just like on the trip, I’ll make new friends, introducing them to me, and to Broadmeadow.”
He now sets about the task of putting in to practice what he learned in his time away. “All I had to do on that Sabbath was put one foot in front of the other, listen, learn about myself and learn about others. What I ultimately heard was God calling me back.”
In June, Reverend Rob Hill began his ninth year at Broadmeadow United Methodist Church, an urban congregation that The Reverend says, he believes, understands and embraces diversity. Sunday morning service is held each week at 10:30am.