God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai:
“Speak to the people of Israel and tell them:
When you enter the land which I am going to give you, the land will observe a Sabbath to God. Sow your fields, prune your vineyards, and take in your harvests for six years.
But the seventh year the land will take a Sabbath of complete and total rest, a Sabbath to God; you will not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.
The land gets a year of complete and total rest.”
~ Leviticus 25:1-7
The word Sabbatical comes from the word Sabbath. The Hebrew word for Sabbath means to “close or rest” and is connected to the last day of Creation when God rested – modeling and commanding Sabbath rest for God’s people. Jesus affirmed the importance of rest saying, “The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath. The Son of Man is not bound to the Sabbath, rather he is in charge of it!” In his ministry, the constant demands of people led Jesus to withdraw to quiet places to meditate, pray, and be renewed.
So what is sabbatical leave in the context of Christian ministry?
Historically speaking, the idea of sabbatical leave began in the Middle Ages when church leaders, who were also the university professors, needed one year in every seven to become students again so that they might refresh their spiritual calling.
Today we think of sabbatical leave as a particular amount of time, usually three months, when minsters/pastors and congregations set aside the leader’s normal responsibilities for the purpose of rest and renewal toward sustained excellence in ministry. A ministry sabbatical is not an extended vacation nor is it an academic sabbatical that normally involves extensive study. A ministry sabbatical is a release from the routine of the call for the physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual well-being of the pastor.
Richard Bullock and Richard Bruesehoff in Clergy Renewal: The Alban Guide to Sabbatical Planning say that sabbatical time for ministers/pastors is a time for “rekindling one’s sense of calling, for growing in one’s knowledge, and for deepening one’s spiritual life. It is a time for renewal and refreshment for those who serve others. It is also a time for a congregation to rediscover its own resources for lay leadership within the congregation and to be itself renewed as a result of the sabbatical.”
So what will I be doing with my sabbatical leave?
To this end, I plan on resting – physically, mentally, and emotionally. I plan to work on sustainable patterns of balance for my life’s journey going forth. And I will be actively seeking refreshment and renewal.
I plan on spending considerable time in prayer and look forward to the moments where I am surprised and awed by the presence of God in the ordinary everyday experiences of life. I look forward to reading – I have a bookshelf full of books just waiting to be opened.
I plan to travel. I will be spending time with close friends and family members on Martha’s Vineyard, in the Midwest, and in in the southwest including Mexico.
And I look forward to spending quality time with Brian and our two little girls, Maya (5) and Noelle (3). The blessing of motherhood is an incredible gift, and I genuinely sense God calling me to spend some time cherishing my two little girls.
But most of all friends, I look forward to simply being. The Psalmist writes, “Be still and know that I am God.” My sabbatical time, in all honesty, will be a time for rest and renewal, but most importantly a time to BE – with myself, my family, and my God. So that when I return to you all in September I am able to be with you in some exciting new ways.
So how will this work?
As of Monday, June 9th I will no longer be in regular communication with my church community. This means I will not be responding to email or voicemail. And believe me, I do anticipate a few weeks of detox will be necessary. In the day and age we live in “going off the electronic grid” seems almost unfathomable to me! ☺ But, it is what needs to happen, and so I will do my best, and ask that you all do the best you can at supporting this endeavor.
My colleagues and I have talked extensively and have all of my pastoral and programmatic responsibilities covered. Know that in my absence there will be no lack of care – and in fact I would encourage new relationships to be forged and formed in my absence!
Now I know that the practice of taking ministry sabbaticals is a somewhat new idea for the AHCC community, and I would be remiss if I did not thank our team of incredible lay leaders for weaving this new practice into the fabric of how we care for our ministers, and ultimately therefore the health and vitality of the church’s ministry. It has been a gift.
And to my clergy colleagues: Matt and Donna, and my staff colleagues – thank you, thank you, thank you for the support and love you have shown and will show while I am away.
Know that I will be praying for each of you and for our church. Although I will be physically absent I will carry you in my heart knowing that in this separation God will be doing a new thing for us. A new thing that I so look forward to discovering with you when I return to AHCC in September. So please keep me in your prayers, as well, and know that my gratitude for your love and grace is beyond measure. God’s richest, deepest, and widest blessings be upon you all.