In the Old Testament covenant between God and the people, a rhythm of life was established. There would be rest on the seventh day. All living things were to follow the lead of God the Father, who rested on the seventh day of creation. Not only are humans and animals called by God to rest every seventh day, but fields are to lay fallow every seventh year. Jesus built on this understanding of Sabbath when, instead of robotically only taking the seventh day off, he sometimes ‘worked’ on the Sabbath as he healed those in need, but also sought out connection with God by leaving crowds for times of rest and prayer. Jesus clarified what Sabbath is for: “the Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.” Jesus knows human beings can become human doings. God knows humans need time for renewal.
At the 1997 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, our Church formally recognized the benefits of taking time for renewal and created a groundwork for congregations to provide sabbaticals for their pastors. Currently, our La Crosse Area Synod, in its compensation guidelines for pastors suggests a sabbatical, “up to 3 months after 5 years in the current call.” $1,150 is put aside annually by First Lutheran to a) cover the costs of the congregation during the pastor’s absence and b) be spent by the pastor as he/she desires during their sabbatical.
The sabbatical is not, however, only meant to be a benefit only to the pastor. It is also meant to be a time of renewal for the congregation. There are, indeed, ways that a pastor’s absence can bring fresh vision to ministries and leaders, especially if the congregation plans well for these periods of time.
I have been serving First Lutheran since 2008 and plan to take my first sabbatical from January through March of 2017. In the wake of 4 grandparent deaths in the last couple years, and as I see my kids growing faster than I can keep up with, I want my sabbatical to be centered around the faithful use of time. I want to make the most of every hour of every day. Because it’s hard to balance work, family, faith and marriage. Of course, the lines blur and there is no perfect schedule in a life that is constantly in flux. But what general principles could guide my efforts to lead a life where I steward my time faithfully? What do I need to become spiritually whole? How can I become healthier (physically and emotionally)? What is the best way for me to remain connected to friends and family who are my cloud of witnesses and sustain me through life’s trials? These are some of the questions I look forward to considering during my sabbatical. Answers will come much more easily without the constant demands of ministry. I plan to do my sabbatical with my family in the Abaco islands of the Bahamas, my wife’s country of origin. It should be an experience abroad for our kids, a dream come true for Carla and a time of true renewal for me. I will be submitting a formal proposal to the Vision & Leadership Team this spring and hope the congregation may consider some of the same questions. Our teams, staff and individual members will all benefit as they consider the faithful use of time.
In the months to come, you’ll be hearing a lot more about what a sabbatical is, how it’s done and why. For now, I ask for your prayers that my preparations would become a blessing to me and my family and also to First Lutheran. I hope you can come to the Annual Potluck February 14, which will include a Q&A session about this. pastor Mike Woods, from Prince of Peace in La Crescent, will be there, too. He has taken two sabbaticals and has a LOT of great insight about why they are such a gift to all involved. Join us!