Yes, my sabbatical is about to begin. I am getting more and more questions by the day, so I thought this might be a time to say a little more about what is ahead for me and for all of you.
When I came to FCC eight years ago, our contract included a three-month sabbatical after seven years of service. Congregations and clergy have discovered the merits of including sabbatical time in their relationships as a way of revitalizing and energizing ministry. Obviously, I am a year late in taking this time – a result of pursuing a grant from the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program which I received. This program gives sabbatical grants to about 150 ministers each year from a number of different denominations. Each grant can be as much as $50,000 which can be used for the activities detailed in the grant application. The grant I have received is for $39,000. Of that, $24,000 is set aside for my sabbatical activities.
Now, what will I be doing with these monies? The broad direction of my sabbatical will be to look at the church in an increasingly secular world. The life and work of Paul – the apostle who carried the Gospel to the Gentile world – will be the framework for my study and reflections.
I will start by spending a week at the Disciples Divinity House at the University of Chicago Divinity School – to separate, to take a breath, and to begin. I have three other trips budgeted to visit ministers and congregations which are flourishing and experiencing renewal in settings like ours – towns that are not in high-growth areas. What is behind their successes?
I also will be spending a week taking a course on church consultation where I will be looking at some core elements of renewal. The big part of the sabbatical will be a three-week trip Linda and I will take to Rome, the Greek islands and Athens where I can track Paul’s footsteps. Finally, there will be some sessions with a health coach sprinkled in in hopes of helping me lock-in to a healthier and more balanced lifestyle.
Our mathematicians will be wanting to ask about the $15,000 which is not for me. This may be the most beautiful aspect of the grant – money has been awarded to the congregation to do two things.
First, there is money to cover some of the church’s needs in allowing me to be absent. There is money which will be used in calling Leigh Finnegan-Hosey to the interim position of Sabbatical Minister. Leigh will be working at the church about half-time during my absence. She will preach and work with Casey to plan worship, including during the Lenten/Easter season. In addition, she will cover most of our major pastoral needs during that time.
Finally, she will lend some expertise to our church programming and administration. She won’t be doing everything, but having Leigh should allow FCC’s ministry to proceed with few hiccups. We are most fortunate that she will be able to share her time and gifts with us. The other piece of the grant for the congregation will cover the expense of a consultation with some experts in congregational renewal. This will be a gift as we think about celebrating 150 years of ministry and consider what lies beyond.
Anyway, I hope this helps you get a feel for what lies ahead for all of us. Every day, I seem to be fielding more and more questions about when and where . . . a little anxiety about what is ahead, I think. I will not be gone for three months, though it is my intention to separate
. . . to separate because I must to do what I am being allowed to do, and to separate because Leigh and Kathy and Theresa and all the rest of our leadership cannot do what they need to do if I am hovering nearby.
So, I expect I will bump into you at Harris Teeter or Chili’s.
In fact, I look forward to it. I expect to have some stories to tell.
Blessings and Peace,
These thoughts and reflections come from our Senior Minister, Minister of Music and Board Chair. We hope that they provide both challenge and inspiration for your spiritual life.