Sabbath. Shabbat. Sabbatical.
All three words share a common root, which literally means “ceasing.”
We recognize Sabbath as the time we set aside for rest, replenishment, and renewal. Ideally, keeping Sabbath means we step away from our work and the multitude of things that fill our schedules and occupy our time, energy, and devotion, and instead direct that time, energy, and devotion towards God.
A sabbatical is an extended time of Sabbath. For pastors, it’s a time devoted to prayer, study, and discernment, but it also involves an intentional stepping away from all the demands of pastoring a congregation. This stepping away, or disengagement, creates space not just for needed rest and renewal, but also cultivates the soil for new things to grow – new ideas for programs and ministries for the congregation, new ways to serve others in the community, and new understandings of how to be ‘church’ in our changing world.
I have had the honor and pleasure to serve this wonderful congregation for five years as your Associate Pastor. As part of my Call Agreement - or “covenant” - that I have with the congregation, after five years I am permitted and encouraged to take a 3-month sabbatical. This sabbatical will begin the day after Easter, on April 17th, and run until the end of July. I’ve filled that time with a mix of study tours, retreats, workshops, and travel with my wife, Stephanie, but I’m also allowing for a balance of unstructured time, that I plan to spend doing the things that I find best renew my spirit – reading, writing, biking, and hiking.
The day after Easter, I fly off to Spain to embark on a 10-day study tour that engages the life and work of Christian mystic, St. Teresa of Avilla. The tour is led by the Rev. Dr. Mary Luti, whom many of you met when she preached at my Installation Service in 2012. Ten other clergy and lay women are joining us on the tour, including the Rev. Vicki Kemper, who along with Mary Luti is one of the writers of the UCC Daily Devotions that many of us receive in our email inboxes everyday. At the end of May, I’m headed up to Sullivan, Maine for a 10-day solo retreat at a vacation home on Long Cove. The secluded location of the home and the beauty of the Cove will hopefully inspire many hours of prayerful discernment, reading, and writing (all things my inner-introvert loves and craves!), while near-by Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park will allow me to stretch my legs with its breathtaking hiking and biking trails.
In June, I’ll spend three days up at Horton Center, run by our NH Conference Outdoor Ministries program, attending their “Clergy Sabbath Days.” I’m looking forward to connecting with clergy colleagues for a time of shared worship, meals, workshops, hikes, and sitting out on the porch watching the sunset over Pine Mountain. In late June and early July, my wife Stephanie and I will take a trip that we’ve been saving for and longing to take for the 17 years that we’ve been together – a two week journey to Scotland. Our plan is to rent a car and circumnavigate the country, staying in B&B’s and exploring the castles, lochs, and shear beauty of the Scottish highlands, islands, and countryside. Visiting the historic Abbey at Iona will be a highlight of the trip, and we'll end our journey with a two-day stay in Iceland. Finally, at the end of July, Stephanie and I will spend a week up at the Long Cove home in Sullivan, Maine, ending my sabbatical with a week of sightseeing, visiting lighthouses, and stopping for lobster rolls along the way.
In between these excursions, I will be home enjoying some unstructured time at the parsonage. Herein lies the challenge of going on sabbatical when you live next door to the church you serve. It can be difficult to disengage when you’re close enough to see the comings and goings of parishioners, church events, and activities. Though it doesn’t happen often, I ask that parishioners not stop by the parsonage during this intentional time away. You may see me out and about in town at Moulton’s, at Shaw’s, or riding my bike, and it’s fine to say hello and ask how my sabbatical is going. What I do ask is that we resist the urge to ‘catch up’ on what’s going on at church, talk about pastoral concerns, or anything else that might bring my heart and mind out of my sabbatical and back into my work as your pastor.
Pastor Dick will be covering all the pastoral needs in my absence. I won’t be checking my church email during this time, and I will be limiting my Facebook activity as well. This is not to say that you all won’t be on my heart and mind, because you will. I love serving this church and I love all of you. Which is why this stepping away is necessary, as it is for every pastor. I carry so much of you all with me as we walk this path of ministry together, that at times it is necessary to set it all down and allow myself space to rest, replenish, and renew. And when I return, on August 1st, I will be refreshed and ready to walk with you once again and continue this wonderful mission and journey we’re on to serve God and others, together.
Peace and blessings,