Every few years Methodist ministers in South Africa are given long leave or 'furlough'. This is an extra two months paid leave in the year. The first furlough occurs six years into ministry and thereafter every six years.
I have taken my leave in pieces, which is generally discouraged - but I do not regret it. It has allowed me time to think and rethink in a sort of spiral. I have taken four weeks so far, will take two weeks soon and then will have a long six weeks at the end of the year (including my usual annual leave).
It has become a year of reflection and I'm sure will continue to be.
What have I done in celebration of furlough?
I joined the hockey club where my daughter plays. Despite being somewhat geriatric and very out of practice it has been a lot of fun. It has been good to be with 'other' people and very good to get exercise and play competitively. Fortunately I didn't start out too unfit. It has been very difficult to fit practices and matches in around church activities. The occasional Sunday morning matches have had to be forgone.
I set up some projects for my time off. The one has been to get into Data Science which is something of an enduring passion for me. I completed the Stanford University machine learning MOOC with Dr Andrew Ng during my last two furlough blocks. I have written a machine learning algorithm in Python using that course. I've also learned a little bit of R with the R for Journalists MOOC. Next step will be to engage with the data science competitions on Kaggle.
Dr Dion Forster looked through my PhD thesis and suggested some ways forward for publishing articles taken from the thesis. I've done some thinking and will focus on that some more in my next furlough block.
I undertook a project looking at assessment and stipend models for churches in our District. I think that I have interesting ideas, but I don't think I have persuaded any one else. I had a good time learning geocoding with Python and creating overlays on Google maps, so it has been beneficial to me, even if I don't get enough data to finish my little project.
The year has been challenging serving two circuit churches and other issues and this has resulted in a fair amount of introspection. This is good. I am looking forward to next year and to having a renewed sense of focus - although I don't as yet know what that focus will be!