It's actually been 6 years here, but there are reasons I waited. And as it turns out, this renewal leave could not have been timed better. I won't go into the reasons for that, other than to say that burnout is a real danger for pastors, and I think that such a danger is only heightening in this increasingly post-Christian, post-institutional culture in which we're expected to minister.
(You can read more of my thoughts about that here.)
It is for that reason that the theme of my time away is falling back in love with my vocation.
The primary purpose of sabbatical time is for a pastor to be re-energized for ministry in their setting. There is no single right way to do this while on renewal leave. Some focus more time on a hobby, some receive training that stokes their creativity, some take trips to places near or far. Regardless of the specifics, the idea is that they are refreshed in body, mind, spirit, and perspective to continue on in their calling.
For me, such refreshment entails remembering the "why" of this work. It entails remembering why I felt a call to ministry at all, what I love about it, and why I want to continue even in light of increased difficulty and potential frustration. What are the blessings and possibilities of this vocation; the reasons I began over 14 years ago?
Those are the sorts of questions I plan to sit with over the next month.
So. What am I doing to help me with that?
With this time only being 5 weeks, the first thing for me was not overloading myself with activity. I need this time to actually feel restful, and even if I packed every day with things that I love individually, they wouldn't provide what I need if done one right after another.
My plan for this first week is nothing. Seriously. I want to do as little as possible. I'll exercise and read and watch Netflix and load the dishwasher. But that's all I want to do.
After that comes some actual movement. I'll spend some time at Loyola Retreat House to pray, reflect, and discern. They have some nice prayer paths and a wonderful little chapel, and I anticipate some good days of centering there.
At some point, I plan to head to the Sugar Grove, PA and Jamestown, NY areas where some of my paternal family are buried. This includes my great great grandfather, who came here as a missionary from Sweden and who has been a point of fascination for me regarding my family tree for some time.
Then it's off to the United Church of Christ's General Synod in Milwaukee. This is my denomination's big biennial gathering/party/gigantic committee meeting. I get to catch up and hang out with friends and colleagues from all over the country, learn some stuff, worship, attend workshops, participate in the national life of the imperfect church I love, and experience the city.
My time away will finish with my family's annual beach trip to Florida. This for me always has a strong spiritual element to it, as I experience God's presence in the sights, sounds, and smells of this place as much as any house of worship. I write about that in several of my books, if you're interested in hearing more.
I also have a reading list related to self-exploration, discernment, and faith that I'll be working through. These titles have arisen for me organically over the past few months, and it makes sense to me that they should accompany me through this journey:
- Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck
- Millenneagram by Hannah Paasch
- Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans
And...that's it. That's plenty, as far as I'm concerned.
My deep and true hope for this time is fall back in love with this life of ministry that I've been having some trouble with lately. I hope to rest, renew and remember what it is about this work and calling that makes me feel passion.
If you're so inclined, I'd be grateful for you to remember me in prayer as I do so.