By the time you read this issue of the Parkview’s newsletter, I will be on sabbatical! My final day in the office is April 29, and I will return on July 31st. Clergy sabbaticals are different than academic or corporate sabbaticals. Here is a description from the grant application of the unique purpose of clergy sabbaticals:
Program Purpose The Lilly Endowment National Clergy Renewal Program at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) seeks to strengthen Christian congregations by providing opportunities for pastors to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection. Renewal periods are not vacations, but times for intentional exploration and reflection, for regaining the enthusiasm and creativity for ministry, for discovering what will make the pastor’s heart sing.
Pastors serve a variety of roles in their privileged position at the center of congregational life: preacher, teacher, spiritual guide, pastoral visitor, friend, confidant. The responsibilities are continual, and the pace and demands of parish life can be relentless, often leaving even the most dedicated pastors recognizing the need to replenish their own spiritual reservoirs to regain energy and strength for their ministry.
Life-giving experiences—strengthening relationships, renewing a sense of call, meeting and serving the neighbor in a new way, finding joy and purpose in a simplified life, traveling to new lands and unfamiliar territories, creating opportunities where members of the congregation can exercise their gifts for ministry— are common themes of these renewal times. Profound discoveries that pastors and their congregations describe as “life-changing events” occur as they participate in this program. Ministry is profoundly important, not only to the people directly served, but also to the larger community and society. The clergy renewal program honors pastors and congregations.
I applied for the Lilly Clergy renewal grant in April of 2019 and received that good news that I had been chose to receive a grant in August of 2019. The grants are awarded to clergy from all the United States – across denominations – and they are competitive. I felt honored and affirmed when I received the good news that I had received a grant. The grants are for a maximum of $50,000, which must include money for additional taxes accrued by the grant, and money for programming for the congregation while the pastor is away. Our church leaders across the years have placed funds in escrow to cover the costs of a sabbatical pastor to provide coverage while the pastor is away.
The theme of my sabbatical grant – the application asks, “what would make your heart sing” – was to put myself again and again in the path of beauty – believing that the experience of awe and beauty is one immediate way we encounter the presence of God.
I had originally intended to go on sabbatical in the winter of 2020, taking a 30-day National Geographic tour to Australia and New Zealand with my daughter Bethie, and spending a week in New York City with my college roommate Susan. This didn’t happen because of the COVID epidemic. I tried to make plans in the winter of 2021, and Australia was still closed to visitors. Finally, I decided to change my plans, and now I am going to France, Spain, and Portugal with my daughter, and to New York with my friend. By a wonderful coincidence, I became a grandmother in late April, so I am taking the month of May to help my daughter and get to know my new grandson, and then will go to New York the first week of June, and to Europe from mid-June to mid-July. I will then regroup and return to work in August.
While I am away, I am going to step back from my work as your pastor. I will not be returning emails or phone calls, and I will trust that your sabbatical pastor, Rev. Diane Hatman, will care for you in my absence. Kim, Heather, and Vern will be holding down the fort. A Sabbatical Task Force of church members has been planning activities for you for this summer, using the funding from the Lilly Foundation and the energy and creativity of our congregation. I will pray for you, and I hope you will pray for me. My sincere hope is that we will come back together next fall with renewed energy, faith, and enthusiasm for the work we do together as pastor and congregation.