Thursday, April 08, 2010


As you may know, I am on sabbatical this summer. If you have no idea what that actually means, you're not alone: the more research I did, the less it turned out I actually knew!  So here are some of the questions I had, and the answers I found.

What is a sabbatical?
The bottom line is that a sabbatical is a time to “not do what you normally do.”
Based on the Biblical concept of Sabbath, a sabbatical is a period of rest and renewal. It's not a vacation, but a deliberate re-centering in one's calling. For an academic, that often means doing personal research or pursuing an advanced degree. For a pastor, a sabbatical is often a time for travel to holy places, such as Palestine or Iona (Scotland) or the basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
The word “sabbatical” comes from the word “sabbath”.  Sabbath is the fourth of the Ten Commandments, and is central to the Torah system of social justice and right action.

How long is it?
My sabbatical will be three months long, which is standard, though some last as long as a year.

Why do you get one?
Because being centered in God and healthy in body, mind, and spirit is critical to ministerial leadership -- and to following Jesus.
The calling of ministerial leadership is a claim upon one’s entire life. Whether one is ordained and employed, or a lay person and volunteering, accepting God’s call to ministry leadership means that every part of your life is available for God’s use, and that we are specially accountable to God and our community for our use of your time, gifts, and resources.  This is a profound responsibility, affecting not only our lives but those of our families, friends, and churches.
The United Church of Christ, like most denominations, recognizes that pastors have responsibility to their communities whether they are on campus or not, at all times of the day and night. So the agreement between the pastor and the church usually stipulates a periodic time of renewal, for the sake of all parties involved. My “letter of call” from our church calls for a 3 month sabbatical every five years.  I was called as your pastor in November 2002, and this is my first sabbatical.

What about our church?
This summer is an opportunity for our church to “not do what you normally do.”  Council member Debra Carpenter and Cantor Susan Hough have been working with me to provide for our church’s care and development.  By the beginning of May, we will send out the plan and all contact information to each household.
We agreed from the beginning that this was a great time for our church to do new things, hear new voices, strengthen lay leadership, and have fun. 

  • New things: the theme this summer is Servolution! Our major ministry activities will be scheduled random acts of kindness – sharing the love of God in fun and practical ways. 
  • New voices: we are scheduling a number of preachers over the summer to bring different perspectives and life experience to the interpretation of Jesus’ gospel. 
  • Strengthen lay leadership: Council and Staff will supervise the daily business of the church, coordinate ongoing ministries, and appoint a single contact for emergency pastoral needs.
  • Have fun: This summer's emphasis on random acts of kindness will be a fun way to share God's love -- and every single person will have a vital role it.  It's a Servolution, after all!

There will also be clergy coverage. Rather than having a single person try to do everything, we will engage 2-3 part-time sabbatical replacements, each utilizing the best of the gifts God has given them.  

What will you be doing?
With God’s help, this will be a time of “how to live” rather than “what to do”.  I hope you'll join me in some of the experiments and readings -- I would love to discuss all of this with you!

  • Theme: Shabbat-ical – composing a life based on God’s Sabbath rhythm. (Shabbat is the Hebrew word for the Sabbath.)
  • Primary spiritual practices: Doing just one thing at a time, and the Ignatian exercises.
  • Primary activities: Researching Sabbath; restructuring our household activity to be able to observe Sabbath; writing a Rule of life; and blogging about our discoveries.  I also hope to perfect my baking technique for pain a l’ancienne!
  • Travel plans: Worshiping with other communities.  As a family, we expect to go to Oxford, MS to see Bran’s family and attend the (William) Faulkner conference; and to North Carolina  I hope to get some days at the ocean as well. to visit Elisabeth’s godmothers and their daughter.

I also plan to read and blog on my reading. Some likely books are:

  • Sabbath, Abraham Heschel
  • Mudhouse Sabbath, Lauren Winner
  • The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time, Judith Shulevitz
  • Living the Sabbath, Norman Wirzba and Wendell Berry
  • Streams of Living Water, Richard Foster
  • The Holy Longing, Ronald Rolheiser
  • Acedia and Me, Kathleen Norris

And, for the fun of it:

  • The Clinton Tapes, Taylor Branch
  • The Tenth Muse: My Life In Food, Judith Jones.
  • Whatever I haven’t read of Michael Pollan and Anne Tyler, among others.

Finally and firstly: I look forward to spending time with my husband Bran and our daughter Elisabeth, who have been very patient with me for (at least) the last eight years.

If you have other questions, please email me!

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