From our (refreshed!) Pastor
Twelve weeks ago I drove away from church. This week I return ready to be back and grateful to have been gone. Family and friends have tracked the time with me and recently wondered what the last couple of weeks have been like. "I want to go back to work!" was always my answer. I have been blessed at St. Paul to have now taken four sabbaticals and I clearly remember each time the desire to be back here before the time away was up.
Here was something I took with me last May: Wheat Ridge Ministries defines a ministry sabbatical as a period of time . . . when ministry leaders and congregations set aside the leader’s normal responsibilities for the purpose of rest and renewal toward sustained excellence in ministry. A ministry sabbatical is not an extended vacation nor is it an academic sabbatical that normally involves extensive study. A ministry sabbatical is a release from the routine of the call for the physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual well-being of the ministry leader.
The last three months have been a great sabbatical. Body, mind, and spirit have been renewed. The time with family and friends, and time alone were the best and most important elements. The time off (especially evenings and weekends) meant freedom to travel all over the country to visit adult children, a beloved mentor, and nine different churches in five states. The time… was such a gift.
I was fed spiritually by the diverse worship experiences in First Presbyterian Church in Portland, Oregon, Bethesda Lutheran Church in Bayfield, Wisconsin, Wooddale Church in Minneapolis (not Lutheran!), Trinity Episcopal in Copley Square, Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Bethesda, Maryland (my home church 40 years ago), and Congregational (United Church of Christ) churches in Winchester and Cambridge. I also worshiped at Redeemer Lutheran in Woburn and University Lutheran in Harvard Square. I got to worship with Janice and be a regular member of the congregation. While we were often among the younger folks in church and saw no more than a total of ten children in all those churches combined, worship was lively, the communities seemed healthy and all of the sermons were good! It was inspiring and rare for me to see and experience so much of the church on Sundays.
I backpacked alone for a spell in the White Mountains and communed with silence and nature. This fellow--looking a lot like Jesus--came walking toward me early one morning, above the tree line, in bare feet. You can see why I wondered. We greeted each other and had a wonderful and deep conversation about the meaning of life. Maybe it was him! He hikes everywhere in bare feet. It was one of many memorable moments of just trying to be fully present. And if you noticed the mountain-man beard, don't worry, I will look normal when you see me next!
So, I am thankful for the time I’ve had; I know most pastors don’t get to take sabbaticals. But more and more churches are starting to realize how valuable they are. Indeed, rest is important to all. Sabbath is woven in to the fabric of life, even as God commands it and calls it holy. We need rest every day, every week, and sometimes for longer spells. Perhaps you've had some time off already this summer or August will be the time. I hope and pray you can move into that sacred space quickly and savor it.
As I return and I'm reminded that "it's not possible to board a moving train with a perpendicular leap." Even in August I will need to run alongside for a while to catch up with the church's momentum. I am grateful to be back! Feel free to call me to reconnect or share any urgent concerns.