19 Days to Sabbatical

I don’t remember when I uploaded my top picture for this blog, but it’s one I took while vacationing with friends on the New Jersey shore in May a couple of years ago. It wasn’t tourist season yet so the beaches were quiet and the only people on the sand were set up for fishing. My days at the ocean were filled with joy: running along the shore in the mornings, watching dolphins play in the distance from my beach chair, smelling the salt air and listening to the waves crash at night was both thrilling and comforting at the same time. Nothing brings me rest and rejuvenation like being near water.

A year and a half ago my congregation began conversations about the possibility of sabbatical and started the process of applying for a Clergy Renewal Grant from the Lilly Foundation. Last spring a team of church members and I put together a proposal in which I had to answer the question, “What makes your heart sing?” After much thought, I knew: it’s water. In August, we received word that we received the grant and plans for sabbatical began in full force.

Much has happened over the past year and a half. The congregation has changed in many ways–people moved on, new people joined, beautiful babies were born, dear members died. I knew the time for sabbatical would come quickly, yet it’s still beyond my comprehension that in 19 days I will close my office door and not open it for three months. It’s here.

In the last few weeks many people have asked me if I’m excited. I am. But I’m also nervous and scared. This sabbatical is about water, yes; yet I’m finding it’s also about letting go. A local pastor used a wonderful image for her recent sabbatical, and I love it: she envisioned herself standing on a beach, putting her congregation into a boat, and launching them into the water. In the distance, she could see the sails being raised for worship each week as the boat bobbed on the horizon. She knew worship was happening, but she needed to stay on the beach. To rest.

I’m a solo pastor. This means I have no other ordained pastors on staff with me who share the joys and burdens of pastoring this congregation. I’m it. And I wonder if it makes my leaving a little harder. My hands are in every part of ministry here; loosening my grip and letting go is difficult as the muscle memory in my fingers has been developed and reinforced for the past seven years. I’m handing over my leadership to the congregation and trusting them to be ok without me. I may not have other pastors on staff with me, but I’m surrounded by capable staff and congregational leaders and I know they will carry on well while I’m away. But it’s hard to let go and make a final push into the water.

As my congregation and I prepare for time apart, I want to share my sabbatical boundaries.

  1. Social Media: I will not be on the church Facebook page while I’m gone, yet I will occasionally update my personal Facebook page.
  2. E-mail: I’ll be leaving my work laptop in the church office, which means I’ll be physically removed from the possibility of checking my work email (pastorjennifer at ctkwbl dot org). I won’t have work email access on my personal devices. You’ll receive an auto response giving you the names of the people who will be covering for me and it will instruct you to resend your email in late August. This is scary for me, but necessary.
  3. This congregation is wonderfully respectful about texting and calling me. Thank you. I won’t be responding to texts or calls during sabbatical time. In fact, my husband will be screening my calls so people will need to get through him to get to me (this is more for me than for the congregation). In the unlikely event something extraordinary should happen, congregation leaders will be able to notify me.
  4. What if people see me at the grocery store or out and about during the summer? It’s ok to say hi. I won’t want to talk about church things (unless it’s to mention that things are going great!), but I’ll be happy to connect.
  5. The best way to keep in touch with me is through this blog. I don’t know when or how regularly I will write, but you will see updates of my travels here. It’s important I give myself the freedom during sabbatical to only post when it feels right.
  6. I will travel with a candle and the congregation will have a matching candle on the altar. Each candle will be lit weekly to mark our connection.

This is new for me and for my congregation. We’re stepping into an unknown space, but I believe it will be full of blessings and joy. Prayers during this time of preparation are welcome.

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