Sabbatical reflections

Reflections of a Visiting Bishop: Science and theology, interreligious dialogue and a welcoming worshipping community

Article originally written for “Crossings”, the newsletter of Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Fall 2012

CDSP and the whole environment of Berkeley have proved to be an excellent and fruitful place for my sabbatical.

My wife Felicity and I are very appreciative of the welcome and hospitality we are receiving here.   Sabbatical times for reflection, renewal and refreshment are crucially important in life generally, and certainly in ordained ministry.   I am tremendously grateful both to the Diocese of Southwark, where I am a bishop, and to CDSP for making this time possible.  I was ordained 25 years ago and consecrated as a bishop 10 years ago –  so the sabbatical has come at a significant time for me, both to take stock of what has been and to look forward to what will be.

When I was considering how my sabbatical time might best be spent, there were a number of important considerations.  The first was how to equip myself more fully for the teaching role of a bishop – seeking to make the Christian Faith intelligible and accessible in the contemporary world.   Two of the key areas are the relationship between science and theology, and the issues of interreligious dialogue.  In today’s postmodern, inter-connected, plural world we must embrace fully the deep challenges both of these areas bring to our understanding of the Christian faith and especially in the field of claims to give “true” descriptions of the deepest realities.

Berkeley was an obvious choice for a place to do this.  CDSP is part of the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) which has nine theological schools from several denominations, and eleven multi-faith or inter-disciplinary centers.   The GTU strap-line of “Where Religion meets the World” reflects a real desire to enable people from particular traditions to engage deeply with one another and the wider world in a very creative way without losing the distinctiveness of their own views.  Of particular importance for me is the Center for Theology and Natural Science led by Professor Bob Russell, who is a world leader in this field.   I have been able to talk with other renowned scholars including Professor Ted Peters of the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Professor Philip Clayton of the Claremont School of Theology, and the Dean of CDSP, the Very Rev. Dr Mark Richardson.   All have been unfailingly generous with their hospitality and time.

A second, equally important consideration for both my wife and I for this sabbatical was to be part of a worshipping community.  In some ways bishops are ecclesiastical vagrants of no fixed abode in terms of regular worshipping community.  So the chance to be rooted in one for the period of the sabbatical was too good to miss.   From day one when we arrived and CDSP and went into Evening Prayer we have felt at home here.   The staff, students and whole community have a warm and welcoming approach.

When you add to all that the resources of a world famous university, UC Berkeley, which is right next door, the cultural life of San Francisco, the intriguing and endlessly fascinating backdrop of a presidential election campaign, and the fact that the sun shines a lot, we feel richly blessed by this sabbatical time.

Bishop Cheetham, Bishop of Kingston, Diocese of Southwark, and his wife Felicity are spending the Fall Semester at CDSP studying, reflecting and worshipping.  They are staying in Gibbs Hall.  He has presided and preached at the Eucharist in All Saints Chapel, and lectured in forums at CDSP and the Center for Theology and Natural Science.   Their son, daughter-in-law and grandson live in Davis, Calif.