I’m working on a plan for a sabbatical break from ministry. Having completed five years of service at Olmsted Community Church, it’s time–according to my work agreement–for a sabbath. Now I know fully well that there are those who would say, “A break from what? Don’t you just work one day a week?”, to which I might answer with a link to a previous post.
Those who know clergy members know that it’s richly rewarding work in some ways, and soul-draining in others. Pastors have the privilege of being with people in the most incredible moments of life (birth, death, marriage, baptisms, divorce, surgery, etc). We get to share the most exhilarating and most painful parts of life with the people we serve, and it is truly an honor to do so. That’s what drew me back to pastoral ministry after an 11-year administrative position.
But over time, sharing those highs and lows begins to feel like a yoke that’s not always easy to bear. Combine that with endless church meetings and 24/7 on-call hours, and the minutia of ministry begins to overshadow the joy. The best of work situations recognizes the stress (and sometimes pain) that pastors carry on behalf of others, and supports the biblical idea of finding sabbath rest. God rested after six days of creation. Creation needs rest, too. And in rest, we honor the Creator. Winter becomes spring by the grace of God.
So I’m planning a scheduled sabbatical. A couple months of rest and renewal will, I believe, carry me back to daily ministry with enthusiasm and energy that sometimes lags today. There’s a national foundation that provides funding for clergy sabbatical rest, and I’m working through that application with church leaders because the church will benefit from this process too.
The grant suggests we approach this with a question, “what makes your heart sing?”, a question that urges me to spend some time thinking about life priorities. The idea is to focus sabbatical time and energy in activities that delight the spirit. Those things help create rest, because doing what we love isn’t work, it’s restorative.
So what makes my heart sing? Three things, primarily. Spending time with my adult children. Travel. Photography. And I’m mulling over ways to use all three lifesongs for sabbatical rest.
I’m considering some travel with my kids. And then another trip, on my own, that would allow me to develop new photography skills while traveling in a foreign country with a master teacher. All three goals met. Yet it’s not so easy to arrange when life is so fluid.
It’s all still in planning stages, but I hope soon to present my plan to church leaders for their blessing. And after the sabbatical months, planned for 2013, I look forward to opportunities for sharing my learning and new energy with the congregation I love. I hope, should my heart sing, that the church will pick up the song.
UPDATE 9/12: I put sabbatical planning on hold with a growing sense that the timing wasn’t right. For me, it’s a bit of spiritual correction; a lesson in letting go and letting God. It’s my growing edge at the moment, and the letting go part may be more valuable to my spirit than the sabbatical itself. I’ll keep you posted.