When I was called as the pastor of Immanuel Church, my contract included a three-month sabbatical to be offered after every seven years of service. During June-August 2017 I will be going on my third sabbatical. I am truly grateful to the people of Immanuel Church for this time of renewal.
Sabbatical is rooted in the word “Sabbath,” the day on which the Creator rested from labor. Just as Sabbath happens every seven days, so sabbatical happens every seven years. It is a gift of full, regular rest to those who nurture God’s people. Sabbaticals are also a time for renewal of energy and fruitfulness, so that we may be more fruitful when we go back to work. In a sabbatical, the pastor is freed to pursue interests ordinarily excluded in the press of the daily vocational grind. It is an opportunity for the pastor to step away from the persistent obligations of daily parish life to renew and refresh his or her energies and enthusiasm. It is also a time to reconnect with immediate and extended family.
Pastors are essential to nurture and sustain the spiritual vitality of Christian congregations. Spiritual guide, scholar, counselor, preacher, administrator, confidant, teacher, pastoral visitor and friend, pastors are called on to play many roles in leading the ministries of congregations. The job is demanding, and pastors perform their duties among a dizzying array of requests and expectations. Like all people of faith, pastors need moments to renew and refresh their spiritual energies and regain their enthusiasm and creativity for ministry.
During my upcoming sabbatical, I will be focusing on the area of caring for ourselves. This will include studies in the area of positive psychology with the reading of books by Martin Seligman – Authentic Happiness, Barbara Fredrickson – Positivity, and Sonja Lyubomirsky – The Myths of Happiness. Researchers are discovering that the brain is capable of generating new cells and pathways, and it ispossible to train the circuitry in the brain to promote more positive responses. Repeated brief moments of positive feelings can provide a buffer against stress and depression and promote better physical and mental health. I will also be taking an 8-week course in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which uses meditation to live more mindfully, and a class in yoga. I will be looking at ways that these experiences can connect with our spirituality, and ways that we can use this research to improve the lives of all the people in our congregation.
One of the side benefits of the sabbatical is that the results of the pastor’s renewal and study are applied to the congregation when the pastor returns in order to help the congregation to thrive and to become healthier. The congregation also benefits from new leadership and ideas from the sabbatical interim pastor. The Consistory has chosen Rev. Teddy Kissell to serve as our interim pastor during my sabbatical. I will include an introduction of Rev. Kissell in next month’s newsletter. May God bless all of us with renewal and new enthusiasm for ministry during the coming months.
Blessings and Peace,