Introduction to Sabbatical

Introduction to Sabbatical

Looking Forward

In the past year, you have heard that I will be going on sabbatical. This will happen from January 4 to April 4. Some of you have been part of conversations about this, some have wondered what a sabbatical actually is and some have wondered about my plans during this time. Let me share with you about this process for us (and yes, I do mean us, since we are in community together).

To do this, it is important to understand the difference between the words comfort and joy.

Let me explain.

The Gospel reading from the 3rd Sunday of Advent takes us to the prison cell of John the Baptizer. Prison is a place for waiting and thinking. Certainly John had an opportunity for both. He had to have wondered what would become of him and if he had been faithful to the call of God in his life. He asks his disciples to go and see if Jesus was the real deal, that is, if He was the Messiah. Why? John needed confirmation that his own work had been completed, and he needed comfort while in prison, knowing he had accomplished that which had been given to him. Like Elijah, who feared for his life after battling the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, John was needing reassurance. He needed comfort. But what John got was joy (which he had received earlier). Joy is different than comfort. Comfort is about the things we know that make life feel predictable and safe. Jesus wasn’t about safe. John wasn’t experiencing safe. Earlier, in the Gospel of John, chapter 3, his disciples return from talking to Jesus to report what they had seen, and they tell of how Jesus had more disciples than John…his disciples were worried (and this was before his imprisonment). His reply to this is perfect.

“You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, “I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.” He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:28-30

At that moment, when he could have felt jealousy because of Jesus’ ministry growing or anxiety about his own future, John experienced joy. He saw the plans of God fulfilled in his midst, and he had been a part of that plan. Joy is experiencing the manifestation of God’s plans in our lives and community. To get there, he needed to trust the process that came before.

We are called to the same, that is, we are called to joy and not comfort.

Sabbaticals are essential for clergy working in parishes. As a part of its care for the clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California, the Office of the Bishop has made sure that all contracts for full time priests offer a sabbatical every five years. The purpose of the sabbatical is twofold:

First, as you might expect, sabbatical is a time for rest and restoration. The life of a priest requires the whole self; body, mind and soul. It can be very taxing. It is a call and vocation into the ever changing world of the lives of people in the parish. While vacation time is a good stop gap to keep the tank from going empty, a prolonged absence from the daily parish responsibility allows for a deeper recharge. This ensures that the shepherding care of the parish continues to be strong, and has depth and vitality.

Second, sabbatical is a time of spiritual growth and renewal. This has been done in many different ways, but let me share with you about my plans for this time (and share some of your opportunities as well).

· A Prayer Retreat – I will be going to the Abbey at New Clairvaux in Vina, California at the beginning of my sabbatical. I am looking for this to be a time of decompression and “quieting the monkeys” in my head in order to start focusing on rest. During this time, I will be meditating, reading and practicing silence.

· Book Reading – Here is a current list that I plan to read:

Life Together – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Run with the Horses – Eugene Peterson
Dare to Lead – Brené Brown
Rest is Resistance – Tricia Hersey
Blue Like Jazz – Donald Miller
Christ and Culture – H. Richard Niebuhr
Will Our Children Have Faith – John H. Westerhoff III
Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers – Christina Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton

· Continuing Education Conference

Forma Conference – Virginia Theological Seminary

This annual conference is taking a look at formation and discipleship within the parish, with a particular focus on the new challenges that have arisen in the last several years.

· Strategic Thinking – thinking about my role in the health and growth of Holy Trinity. This will be done as I gather insight from my reading, continuing education and retreat time, and place this in the perspective of parish life here at Holy Trinity.

Opportunities for the Parish During Sabbatical

· Formation Opportunities

Along with Sunday mornings, morning prayer and evening prayer, there will be two new opportunities for spiritual formation.

Life Together, A Conversation

Summer Green will be leading a conversation about key concepts in this important book about Christian community. This will start after the first of the year; look for more information on this soon.

You Are What You Love, A Study

Chip and Peggy Arenchild will lead a once-monthly study on this book to take a look at the “liturgies” that drive our lives; looking at what we love and how it influences us daily. This as well will be starting after the first of the year, look for more information on this soon.

· Strategic Thinking

There will be two retreats while I am away to focus as a parish on looking forward (while I am looking forward as well, while on sabbatical). Both of these retreats will be led by the Reverend Matt Warren, Vicar of Christ the King in Quincy.

Now, it may seem odd to have a retreat with the Rector away, but the goal is to do the same work separately and come together to see where the Holy Spirit is moving, as well as how we can navigate this new season of spirituality in our culture, continuing to renew the life in our church. It is a work of both Priest and Parish to envision direction, determine the resources needed and how we can work together using our strengths. I bring this up because we naturally tend to default to the things that bring us comfort, help us feel safe and are predictable (see the story of John the Baptizer above). But comfort is not necessarily good for us or a part of the goal of the Christian journey. Joy, however, is (see Galatians 5:22-23). Like the disciples, we are being called to follow Jesus; to “come and see” the great things that the Lord has planned and to participate in them. Which means at a retreat about this next season of our lives, it requires us pulling back from the tendency to program, and then to engage in the practice of seeing together where God might be calling us next. During my sabbatical, this will be done in a Vestry Retreat on February 11, and a Parish Retreat on March 18. Please plan on participating in the retreat on March 18 and look for details to follow.

More details will be following in the next few weeks to communicate points of contact for the many needs that may arise while I am away, but I felt it important, for now, to let you in on the plans for us during this sabbatical time.

So friends, let us pray for the well-being of our parish family and the community we live in. Let us be mindful of the things which God seeks to accomplish in our midst. Let us be thankful for the ministry that has been happening here for nearly 150 years.

In the grace of God,