As we round the corner and move into 2018, I am well aware that this is the year of my sabbatical! It feels quite miraculous for me to even write this sentence. I want to tell you a little about the sabbatical plan and what it means for me.
One of the significant challenges of pastoral ministry is the consuming nature of the work. Lots of people work hard at their jobs and put in extra hours. Some people are downright compulsive about their work and never quite shut down. This is a particular problem for pastors who feel a great responsibility for carrying forward, not just the work of the church, but the work of God! I will admit that I have a sometimes unhealthy bent toward non-stop working. My family will testify to the fact that I struggle to stop thinking about the church, its ministry and its people in the evenings and on my “off” days. My husband is better at stopping the “church thinking” than I am, but not by much.
Several years ago, the Lilly Foundation’s Religion department began to notice patterns in clergy retention. They found that pastors, 7-10 years into ministry in a given call, would often find themselves increasingly fatigued and sometimes on the edge of burn out. Frequently those pastors would either seek a new call and new start in another congregation or simply stagnate. Believing that longer pastorates are generally good for congregations, the Lilly Foundation decided to offer Clergy Renewal Grants to help congregations provide a time of rest and renewal for their pastors. Those grants have enabled many pastors and congregations to engage anew in happy ministry together after their pastors have had a much-needed time of rest and renewal. This church has been fortunate to have received such a grant and my husband Mike’s church has also received such a grant making renewal possible for both of us at the same time at zero cost to the church. I dare to say it’s a miracle!
So, what’s the plan? What will I do on sabbatical you may ask? Well, it is my delight to tell you about it! My sabbatical is called a Pilgrimage in Relationships. My goals are three-fold: to renew my relationships with God, with myself and with my family, particularly my husband, Mike.
The activities planned in this sabbatical nurture each of these key relationships in ways that make sense individually. My relationship with God typically grows most through a focused study of one aspect of the faith that intrigues me. I have long been fascinated by the development of the early church and its theology. So, an important component of this sabbatical is time to explore the early church through pilgrimage to some of the earliest sites of Christianity. Almost seven weeks of the sabbatical are given over to exploring the cities and sites of the apostles Paul, Peter and John. These sites include Thessaloniki, Athens, Patmos, Kavala, Mt. Athos, Meteora, Philippi, and Rome. My intention is not simply to visit these locations, but to read the scriptures, meditate and pray in these holy places – to be on pilgrimage. The pilgrimage is set up with some intentional rest and down days built in to allow for time to do some reading, reflecting and writing about the early church’s beliefs and theology with a particular focus on Paul. I believe such a pilgrimage will feed my soul!
The nurturing of my sense of self necessitates time to renew and recreate, so creative energies are restored. Traveling, visiting historical sites and engaging people of different cultures is energizing for me. Plenty of travel and cross-cultural engagement have been interspersed through this sabbatical plan to provide for personal renewal! So, for instance, my husband and I are presently studying conversational Greek so we can engage with the local people of Greece. Bert and Adi Veenendaal have been gracious enough to loan us their apartment in Thessaloniki, so we can live like the locals for part of our time in Greece.
Finally, it is really important to me to nurture family relationships during this sabbatical time. So often my family gets the short straw because one or the other of the pastors in the family gets called away. This is complicated for my husband and me because of the distance between our called churches. For the past eight years, my husband, Mike, and I have worked in churches that are 80 miles apart. Mike and I are so looking forward to spending time together as just a married couple and not just colleagues in ministry. We long to nurture our love for one another anew. So, the first activity out of the gate is a romantic 10-day river boat cruise from Zurich to Paris. We have also allowed for time to visit my relatives in England whom we have not seen in three decades; and time to visit immediate family our sons and Mike’s sister, after our return to the states, at the end of the sabbatical.
It is the trip of a lifetime! We will never do anything like this again. Of this I am certain. I hope to return to you in mid-August rested, refreshed, with a renewed wonder at those early disciples and some great material for teaching, with a fresh faith and deep gratitude to the Presbyterians in La Porte! Thank you for making such a miracle possible.