It always makes me chuckle when people say to me, “I wouldn’t want your job—having to stand up in front of a group of people week after week, and always have to have something important to say.”
And I reply by telling them, “That’s actually one of the easier parts of my job.”
Ministry is hard work. Hard in ways congregants may find difficult to understand. In normal times, ministry is hard when it’s done well. In the pandemic times of the last couple of years, it has driven many ministry types to look for a different line of work.
Thankfully, our UCC and Minnesota Conference guidelines for compensating pastors include a provision for sabbaticals, usually after the fifth year of ministry in a local church, for three months.
Three months of rest. Deep rest. Of spiritual renewal, discernment and clarity. All to renew our energy and focus for this ministry we have together. The pandemic has been a strain on congregations and their clergy, and frankly, one of the goals of sabbaticals in the era of COVID-19 is to avoid “The Great Resignation.”
I submitted a written summary to the Executive Board at its July meeting, proposing a sabbatical beginning in July of 2023. I’m working with the Sabbatical Planning Team of Lynne Bradbury, Sue Gramith, Allen Hoffman, and Katie Johnson, appointed by the Executive Board to develop a plan that includes sabbatical practices for the congregation, so that both of us are ready for the next chapter of our mutual ministry. At this point in the development of this proposed plan, I anticipate dividing the three months as follows:
Travel – To restore my perspective and live simply on the road. Traveling with my wife, Linda, for its value in deepening our relationship, broadening our horizons, and practicing simplicity, is integral to my plan for the rest and restoration goal of a sabbatical. Plans could involve a three-week trip to Iceland and Scotland, or to western Canada while camping.
Rest, retreat and prayer – To allow myself deep rest and recovery from ministry in a time of the pandemic. This would be at home; in a self-directed time of reflection at a hermitage, alone; and on an eight-day, silent, directed retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, rooted in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Learning – To prepare for a planning process and action plan at our church to transform and expand our mission into more strategic, intentional, community-based ministry through partnerships with community organizations. I anticipate doing this mainly through visits to churches or ministries that are examples of creative partnerships between congregation and community and of mutual benefit, specifically those that involve leveraging the church’s building for community ministry in creative ways.
Patti Hoffman has coordinated the development of a congregational survey that’s coming out soon, asking for YOUR input on what would be most helpful in congregational rest, renewal and discernment while I’m on sabbatical.
In addition, the team and Executive Board have agreed that it would be best to hire a sabbatical supply minister to cover for my main areas of ministry (worship, pastoral care, and administration) while I’m gone, using funds set aside in the first three years of my time with you, specifically for the sabbatical. As I write this (Tuesday, Nov. 1), I will be discussing the specifics of the position with a UCC pastor who has served in several sabbatical supply pastorates.
The Planning Team and I look forward to hearing from you through the survey coming out soon! If you have questions that arise before or after the survey, or during the planning process this year, please raise them with a team member or me. We are in this together, you and I!