Counting down to sabbatical

To Do Before I LeaveIn just over two weeks I will begin a sabbatical from my pastoral ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Hudson.  The sermon countdown has begun (two more to write).  The “To Do Before I Leave” list at the left is constantly being updated.  I’m getting excited as I imagine what it will be like to have a summer full of weekends with my family instead of trying to squeeze our fun into the 12 hours we’re all awake on Saturday.  At the same time nerves are starting to mount a little, too.  Will the kids and I get along (enough) most days?  Will I know what to do with myself when I’m not being a pastor?  Will I miss the relationships in my life that are disrupted by this time away?

Part of my preparation for this time away was putting together an FAQ for our church community about what the sabbatical is for us all, why I am taking it, what I will be doing, and what kind of boundaries we will need to maintain during this time.  I have had friends from within my church circles and outside of them ask me about my plans for my experience.  Here are a few (extended versions of my) answers to some of these frequently asked questions.

What’s this sabbatical all about again?

The up-coming three months are a time to seek renewal, both for First Presbyterian Church and me. They are designed to be a time to prepare us all for the next stages of our life together. During the sabbatical I will disengage from the spiritual, mental, relational, and vocational work of ministry to this congregation in order to care for my own spiritual, mental, relational, and vocational well-being.

What will you be doing?

I will be resting from day-to-day, 24/7 pastoral ministry, a vocation that means even if I’m not in the building my family and I know that I could be called for something, particularly a crisis, at any time.  It’s a vocation I serve with joy, but it is also one that can be taxing on my own spirit.  The sabbatical means I will be able to engage fully in the life of my family and my own inner life, deepening my capacity to love, serve, and lead as I have been called by God to do.

Resting from day-to-day ministry does not mean sitting around with my feet up, at least not all the time.  For most of the sabbatical I will be experiencing life as a full-time stay-at-home parent.  I’ve never done this before, and I have a little anxiety about it.  I have tremendous respect and admiration for parents who do their difficult job without the help of childcare providers, and I am prayerful that I will be able to do this well.  As a family we will do our best to check out the local hidden treasures – parks, lakes, museums, festivals, fairs – that we just have never experienced because of our conflicting work schedule.  We will do some traveling in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and we will also see our families in Nebraska and Florida.

Thanks to a grant I received from the Board of Pensions Assistance Program (funded in part by the Christmas Joy Offering our congregation receives annually) I am spending one week at a conference about adaptive leadership in the mountains of North Carolina.  It is a smaller, more intensive learning opportunity than I am able to attend on my usual continuing education budget, and I’m looking forward to the reading and case study preparation beforehand, as well as the conversations and learning from colleagues when I get there.

Lastly, I will be praying, thinking, reading, and gleaning insights from colleagues on what successful pastoral leadership looks like in the 21st century.  The role of the church in the lives of individuals and communities has changed dramatically in the last generation or two.  Many of the expectations on pastors have not changed and may not be keeping up with what it means to serve God, the church, and the community in this new culture.

I intend to use all these pieces of the sabbatical to help me begin to discover how I lead best, what God is calling me to do in the next 3-5 year stage of our life together, and how I can be the healthiest person I can be, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and physically as I continue to serve First Presbyterian Church.

Any advice about the sabbatical from those in or outside of church life?  I’d love to hear it!  Drop a comment here and let me know what you have learned from your own experience.

5 thoughts on “Counting down to sabbatical

  1. I have no advice about a sabbatical, other than it sounds like an excellent thing to do. I had a vague idea of how being a clergy person can be spiritually draining. This past year my husband has been president of our synagogue – not quite clergy, but in a similar position (and not paid!). It has definitely been spiritually draining. The need to always be “on” and listening is something that one can’t appreciate the effect of, unless one has done it.

    I am glad to hear of this great application of the Christmas Joy offering, which my congregation participates in also. The conference looks like a really great way to apply that money! In March, four of us from my church – three lay leaders (including me) and our pastor – went to the Next Church conference in Chicago. It was eye-opening to me, and within a month of that conference we implemented some of the things we learned there. Mostly what the conference did for us was give us ideas and confidence to make changes. Our attendance there came on the tails of a 1 1/2 year long strategic planning process which was frustratingly slow. The conference brought it all together and gave us renewed energy and moved us forward.

    You are absolutely right that the the world has changed over the past 50 years, and therefore the role of the church has changed (and/or needs to change). But congregation members have difficulty recognizing that, or remain in denial (because the change will be painful in some respects) about the need to change.

    Okay, comment is getting longer than a blog post so I had better stop. Know that I will be praying for you over the next few months (without even knowing you in person!) for your sabbatical to be restful and fruitful (and I hope those two things are not in conflict with each other).

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    • Oh shoot! I was at NEXT, too! Would have been fun to bump into each other there. I have found that same thing to be the biggest value of NEXT – the confidence to make changes. So far I have gone alone the last two years. It’s sort of a place I get to be with my “church,” my friends, but I see the need to start bringing people from the congregation with me.

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  2. Dear Stephanie, this sounds just right! You and your church will get a lot of good out of this. When you have time I would love to know what you are reading. Best wishes, Patrick

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  3. Pingback: Wednesday Festival – Transition Time | RevGalBlogPals

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