Here is the view that greeted me many mornings over the past few weeks. During July (with brief breaks for, among other things, a funeral for a much loved member of our congregation) I spent what time I could at my "shack in the woods" in north central Maine. I was a mile or two from the nearest power line. We had gas lamps to light our evenings and sketchy plumbing all around. It was great. It was quiet. I spent my time relaxing, reflecting, swimming, canoeing, and spending time with family and with old friends.
Of course, now is a different month and a different time. I am back at work getting ready for another year of church. However, this year is different. This is my sabbatical year. I will be taking time off (in all four seasons) to reflect on my own spiritual life, on my ministry, and on the congregation I serve. There is plenty of documentation concerning the importance of time such as this. At the end of this post, in fact, I have a link to an article from yesterday's New York Times on clergy burnout.
Keeping this in mind, my sabbatical has roughly three foci. The first could best be termed "Family". I am not one of those parish ministers who makes grand claims about the difficulties and challenges of my job. Every job has difficulties and challenges. But it is true that there are two elements of the work that can make family life hard. One is the schedule. I work almost every weekend. When other families are planning time together, I am doing weddings and funerals, attending meetings, and (of course) preaching. When I have potentially free time, my wife is at her job and my children are at school.
The other challenge is the type of emotional commitment that the parish ministry requires. Again, all jobs have certain requirements and many have emotional elements, but think about weddings and funerals for a minute and what leads up to and follows them. Throw in baptisms and the general existential stresses that a clergyperson addresses in others. It is an honor to do this work (and I am not saying that it is harder than any other work--just different), but on some days it is hard to change gears to focus on those relationships with people closest to you. Therefore, family time is a priority.
The second category is "Ministry". Specifically I am focusing on preaching and worship. I just finished a Doctor of Ministry degree in preaching. My focus was on inhabiting texts both written (like the Bible) and unwritten (like life) and finding ways in worship to invite people to examine those texts themselves. For years this has been an academic endeavor. My challenge is to find ways to make what I have learned something that can be actualized in my ministry.
The third category is "God" or "Spirituality". Many folks don't realize this but the work of being a religious professional doesn't always mix well with the spiritual and reflective life. Not that it is completely neglected, but it could use some attention and maintenance at times. Sabbatical is a time for deepening my relationship with the Divine. I plan to read, to spend time in nature, and, yes, to pray.
All of these will be a part of what I do and, because of this, my eco-blog (this one) is expanding to allow for these sorts of reflections. It may also allow for more frivolous passions and pursuits as well. I am a football fan, for example, and an amateur photographer and homebrewer. I play the Ukelele. You get the idea. I can only take too much seriousness before I feel embarrassed for myself. Regular readers should be prepared.
Here is that article in the times: Taking a Break From the Lord's Work