GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The Rev. Diana Wilcox returned to Christ Episcopal Church at the end of September after a three month sabbatical. Her time away from the Glen Ridge congregation was required by the Episcopal Church, which gives ministers the opportunity to refresh and revive themselves every five to seven years.
Wilcox paid for her sabbatical, which she divided into four parts. The first part was devoted to lobbying for refugees and asylum seekers. For this, she traveled to Washington, D.C., and spoke with senior staff members of U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker in an effort to lobby against current immigration policies.
“Immigration is something I’ve been working on,” she said. “It came to me that we are not welcoming strangers as God would.”
Wilcox, who is the diocesan liaison for the Episcopal Migration Ministries, thought her lobbying effort went well. Also, as she is originally from the D.C. area, Wilcox was able to visit her family.
The second part of the sabbatical she devoted to spiritual renewal, traveling to England to visit cathedrals and attend services. In particular, she went to Canterbury Cathedral to attend an evensong service. The cathedral is the “mother church” of the Angelican community, of which the Episcopal Church is part.
Wilcox also visited Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral, where she saw one of four remaining copies of the Magna Carta.
“The Nazis used the spire of the cathedral as a marking point when they bombed the city,” Wilcox said. “So the Magna Carta was spared.”
For the third part of her sabbatical, Wilcox attended workshops for two weeks at the Theological Summer School at Oxford University, where she took four courses and ate breakfast and dinner in the Great Hall of “Harry Potter” renown.
“The tradition at night was that we would stand at our chairs until the prayer, said in Latin, was offered,” Wilcox said of the dining experience. “Then we could be seated.”
She took a workshop course on Mary Magdalen, whose Biblical story is that of a sinful woman.
“She was never a prostitute,” Wilcox said. “She was the apostle to the apostles and the only person featured in every Gospel account of the resurrection.”
Wilcox supplemented her studies with trips to art galleries to see the depictions of Mary Magdalen, as “artists did a lot of her images over the centuries.”
Wilcox also studied the lives of poet pastors during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation of the 16th century, including John Donne, George Herbert and John Bunyan.
An overview of “The Inklings,” a 20th-century literary group associated with Oxford University that included C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Charles Williams, was taught during Wilcox’s workshops.
“I had never heard of ‘The Inklings,’” Wilcox said. “We went to the pub where they met. I was deeply fascinated by this group of scholar/authors.”
The final workshop in Wilcox participated in was titled “Science and the Sacrament.”
She spent the fourth part of her sabbatical at rest and working on a children’s book, “Why isn’t God a girl?” The idea for the book came to her after an 11-year-old girl in her congregation asked her that question. Wilcox responded by saying, “Who said God is not a girl?” and the little girl then ran back to tell her mother. Wilcox said on her webpage for the book that, while her reply had empowered the girl, she understood it was the church that said God could not be a girl.
“I knew something needed to be done to prevent another generation of young people, both girls and boys, from growing up holding only one image of God, born out of patriarchy, and trying to limit a limitless God,” Wilcox wrote.
She said she was grateful to her congregation for their prayers while she was away.
“I have to say that in studying the Christian poets and authors, scholarly works and seeing the historical context has left me with a greater knowledge and appreciation for the roots of my faith tradition, a sense of continuity through time and a hope for what comes next,” Wilcox said. “My faith’s tradition goes back centuries to connect with other Christians across the world. It’s uplifting.”