Gift February 20, 2009

Picture me rushing to the mail box September 1 right before final pick-up.

(This crazy, deadline-flirting style would be nothing unusual for me, as many of you know.) louisville-institute

But when I wrote and submitted my application to The Louisville Institute Sabbatical Grants for Pastors program I knew that even if I got it there in time, my winning a grant was a long shot by far. Over 400 pastors applied this year, and believe me, the work it took to meet application requirements (not to mention getting a September 1 postmark) was nothing to sneeze at. And, I suspected even as I slid the manila envelope into the mail slot, many of the applications submitted included far holier proposals than mine.

Calvary, as many of you know, has a very generous sabbatical policy for the pastor: three months of paid leave every four years. This summer will mark my sixth year at Calvary, and I can regularly feel the fatigue my work invites, so I knew it was getting to be time to take a sabbatical. Studies show, hands down, that regular sabbaticals are healthy for both pastors and congregations, increasing clergy retention and health, and even congregational health and growth.

My own need for renewal along with these compelling statistics are enough to convince me that we could all use a sabbatical around here, but the thing is . . . I could never afford the sabbatical of my dreams. And this knowledge was what fueled my rush to the mailbox last September 1, with an envelope laying out my best wish for sabbatical: I would make my way back home to spend some time exploring the various influences that birthed my call to ministry initially, to try to rediscover the optimism, enthusiasm and energy that carried me through early years of ministry.

As this would, by definition, take me to the Hawaiian Islands for an extended period, I thought The Louisville Institute folks might find my application less than holy . . . and, in fact, maybe even a little suspicious.

Thus you might imagine my surprise when, in late December, I received a letter informing me that I had been awarded one of 40 sabbatical grants by The Louisville Institute. Because of the incredible gifts of sabbatical time from Calvary and this grant from The Louisville Institute, I will, in fact, get an opportunity to go to Hawaii for most of the summer with my family . . . to spend time with my parents . . . to revisit all the places and people who birthed and nurtured a call to ministry in my own life. I’ll also have the opportunity to return to Guatemala City, to take two intensive weeks of Spanish language study in the city where I lived my first five years of life. My sabbatical will begin June 13 and last through September 6th.

This past week I traveled to Louisville to visit the Institute and to receive training for how to maximize sabbatical, both for me and for Calvary. It was really not until I sat there among the incredible folks who had also received grants, that I realized how very fortunate I am. I finally had some dedicated time to consider what sabbatical might mean for my life and my work . . . and I have to tell you, the gratitude I feel for having come to this time and place in life and ministry and to be presented with such an incredible opportunity . . . it’s overwhelming.

Thanks to the training I received last week in Louisville, I got a lot of my own questions about sabbatical answered. However, I know all of you must have some, too. What will happen if there’s an emergency? Who will be preaching? How can we keep up with Amy’s adventures? Who will take over the task of providing cutting-edge, evocative-yet-timely quotes to the press??!?

Since all these lingering questions remain, it’s a good thing that our very own moderator, Amy Dale, happens to have a father who is an expert in pastoral leadership and healthy church systems. Bob Dale will join all of us after worship on May 3rd in the Chapel for a short presentation about sabbatical. Then, we’ll all have the opportunity to raise questions and concerns, and Bob will help us talk through some of the details that still seem unclear. Among other things Bob will help us understand why sabbaticals are important, what sabbaticals are and what sabbaticals are not, what things will be like when the pastor gets back, etc. The Pastoral Relations Committee, the team tasked with watching over pastoral matters while I am gone, will also be present to share their perspectives and help us all understand the role they will play while I am gone.

I hope you will join us May 1 after worship to talk with Bob and to hear a little more about what sabbatical will look like for all of us.

And, thank you again for your commitment to healthy community life and to caring for me and my family.

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