My congregation has generously offered me a sabbatical for this summer. The typical United Church of Christ contract suggests one three-month paid leave for every five years of full time ministry worked. I have benefited from several such breaks from ministry in my 33 years of pastoral leadership and each has had a somewhat different flavor to it.
Here are a couple of definitions that give shape to my summer:
*a period of paid leave granted to a university teacher or other worker for study or travel, traditionally one year for every seven years worked.
synonyms: break · rest · day off · recess · time off · time out · leave · leave of absence · furlough · sabbatical · trip · tour · journey · expedition · voyage · vacation · staycation · vacay · sojourn
*Sabbatical is a rest from work, or a break, often lasting from one month to a year. The concept of sabbatical has a source in shmita, described in several places in the Bible. For example, in Leviticus 25, there is a commandment to desist from working the fields during the seventh year. Strictly speaking, this means a sabbatical would last one year. (from Wikipedia)
So my first resolve is to let my overgrown vegetable garden remain overgrown so that the soil can be even further replenished during the time of my respite! No weeding for me!
Sabbatical and sabbath have the same root which comes from the Hebrew word shabbat, meaning rest or cessation. I am now two weeks into my three-month sabbatical and I have ceased with my usual work load and obediently rested by sleeping in past 8. It’s been great!
But there is a different kind of work associated with this ministry recess. A committee of talented individuals in our congregation applied for a Lilly Foundation National Clergy Renewal Grant (http://www.cpx.cts.edu/renewal/apply/national-program ) with a theme of Nourishing Roots. We learned last August that our application was accepted so we began to put into place the many plans we had made. The shaping question for all grant applicants is “What would make your heart sing?” Our answer: tracing our roots!
There are roots of DNA and of Spirit. I have been given the fantastic opportunity to travel around Europe with family members to hunt down churches, graveyards, residential streets and city landmarks to experience the life of our ancestors. In one month’s time I will go to six different countries, traveling with my husband and daughter for the first half of the trip and three of my sisters for the second half. Later in the summer I will be hosting trips for family members to join me in my father’s home territory of Haverhill, Mass. and my mother’s home turf of Chicago, IL. I will spend a week on the lakefront near Saugatuck, MI on a parcel of land that has been in the family for more than 120 years. I am reading up on some of the ancestors in the faith, most recently Jonathan Edwards. I look forward to incorporating stops along our journeys at places marked by courageous voices of the Christian faith.
Meanwhile the congregation is hearing from different preachers who will speak to our roots as Christians, Protestants, Congregationalists, United Church of Christ members and part of the church family that has met at the corner of Fremont and Bridge Streets in Rockford, Michigan for more than 170 years. Church members have been invited to participate in personal genographic mapping to better understand their own roots. We have a carload of folks heading to Washington, D.C. to do some advocacy work, which powerfully reflects the social justice emphasis of our denomination. We will use grant money to buy trees that will be planted in a new park in our town (literal roots being planted!). On separate but parallel journeys we will explore our nourishing roots this summer!
So the flavor of this sabbatical is rich, even extravagant! The Psalmist understood this: “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the person who takes refuge in him.” Psalm 34:8
God has been so gracious to us in the creative imagining of the grant-writing process. Now living into our proposal, I am so grateful for how amazing this experience will be for me, for my family and my congregation. God is faithful and, when we stretch in new directions, we are surprised by how God shows up. I can’t wait to share with you how God blesses me as I leave the safety of home and routine and become nomadic for a sabbatical summer!