Join me on Sabbatical
In the spirit of “recharging,” just over a year ago, the RPC Session voted to grant me a sabbatical leave for June, July, and August of 2018. To fund that sabbatical, I applied for a grant from the Lilly Endowment Pastoral Renewal Program. The Lilly Endowment’s grant is “designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians. It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes.”
What follows is an excerpt from my 2017 grant proposal:
“Serving the Rye Presbyterian Church has been one of the greatest joys of my life. It is a growing, engaged church, full of activity, with a heart for mission, and teeming with children and youth. It is amazing to realize that the largest part of my professional life will be lived in this one place. But I would have it no other way. After 19 years of ministry here, it might be easy to coast along, doing things ‘the way they’ve always been done.’ But I desire for my own life to mirror what I see in this church: growth, enthusiasm, energy, and a commitment to face the evolving challenges of the world we live in.
The world these days seems increasingly divided, with unity found in smaller and smaller gatherings of like-minded individuals. Many churches seem to be following the same fate – divided on issues of morality and social justice, and by the politics that dominate the landscape. Life itself feels increasingly fragmented, and often unhealthy. Religion is practiced, but relegated to being one more activity in hectic lives. Family relationships and friendships are pushed to the margins as “busyness” becomes the order of the day. What is it at the center, as author Richard Rohr asks, that holds us together as “circumferential people?”
“I sense this dynamic at a personal level. On the one hand, my work in the life of the church has become increasingly “of this world.” In addition to worship, pastoral care and teaching, much larger portions of my time and energy are devoted to the details of personnel, budgets, and management. At the same time, I have been drawn to contemplative practices and reading – things that speak to the nourishment of the spirit and the spiritual life. Intriguingly, this path also speaks of a more “integrative” way – one that doesn’t leave the world behind to simply attend to matters of spirit, but seeks to live all of life as a more integrated whole – one where mind, body, and spirit are deeply connected.”
“I hope this time will be spiritually, mentally, and physically re-centering. I hope to enter this next chapter refreshed and re-energized by a vision for how the “busyness” of church and life can be infused with the life of the Spirit. It is my hope that this renewal experience will better ground me in this integrative way of thinking, living, and doing ministry, helping me to better lead others on a similar path.”
To that end, my sabbatical, from June 3 to September 9, has several different facets:
-Mind. Throughout the summer I will be taking a course in Not-for-Profit Management. Seminary was wonderful, but it didn’t do a whole lot to prepare me for the more “practical” aspects of ministry in a church the size of RPC.
-Body. Throughout the summer, through yoga classes and work with professionals, my goal is to build some better patterns for my long-term physical health.
-Spirit. Through classes at Yale Divinity School, and several retreats that focus on Christian spirituality and the arts, I hope to go deeper into the “contemplative” path of faith – through prayer and other spiritual practices, integrating spirituality with everyday life.
-Rest and Renewal. One of the great gifts of this sabbatical will simply be time - time to relax and do things that, as the Lilly program says, “make your heart sing.” For me that will be time gardening, time with family near and far, time upstate in the Adirondacks, and time to reconnect with friends.
I am exceedingly grateful for this opportunity - grateful to the leadership of the church for building it in our co-pastor terms of call; grateful to the Lilly Foundation for making it financially possible; and grateful to John, Jean-Paul, and the rest of the church staff for picking up the load as I step out for a time.
Finally, an invitation.
So what about you? I hope the summer ahead affords you the opportunity to do some of the things that “make your heart sing.” In addition, I invite you to explore some of the directions of my sabbatical with me. Author Richard Rohr has been a significant catalyst in this process for me as he articulates and encourages the integrative contemplative Christian path. I invite you to join me in that exploration. Richard has a daily devotional that I find very helpful – look for a link in church emails to sign up for that daily email. In addition, he has several books worth your time – “Everything Belongs” and “Falling Upward.” I will make free copies available in the church library. Please join me!
Friends, enjoy your summer. I will miss being in your midst, but I look forward to being back with you to continue the journey of faith together.