A 2011 report by the Louisville Institute (LI) upon the conclusion of its sabbatical grants for pastoral leaders program (2006-2011) offers impressive statistics: “80% of congregational representatives affirmed that the LI-funded sabbatical had strengthened the pastor's commitment to his or her parish” and “75% reported that the sabbatical had tangibly benefited the life of the church.” That breadth of people benefitting—pastors as well as congregants—would alone have been impressive. But when the report calls pastors and congregations to “trust the process” of sabbaticals, there is more at issue than the sheer number of people touched. Time is also a factor.
“Parish ministry can become a ‘totalizing environment’ that defines the whole life world of the pastor,” explains the report, adding: “Wise pastors acknowledge their need to keep Sabbath as a regular rhythm and alternate tempo in their ministry. Sabbath keeping fosters pastoral imagination via negativa: saying ‘no’ to work, commerce, and daily routine in order to say ‘yes’ to contemplation, feasting, and friendship with Creator and other creatures.” Renewal leaves of this sort have benefit beyond the leave time itself, in part because they have the implications of a spiritual practice. Not all immediately apparent, some benefits of a spiritual practice emerge over the long haul during which it is engaged.
Trusting the process of a leave to have transformative potential over time may involve engaging new practices even before the leave begins. In a “How to Have a Good Sabbatical” section, the Louisville Institute report recommends: “Start now living the sabbatical disciplines you desire. If you plan to journal while away, begin today. Integrate into your way of life so these disciplines will become enduring habits after return.”
Trusting the process may also involve looking beyond the close of a leave. The Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs (CRP), which provide grant funding for pastors to step away briefly from daily parish life, pay attention to this. Final CRP grant report guidelines ask, “Will any aspects of this renewal program be continued after the grant period?” These reports ask congregations, specifically, “Are there any parts of the renewal experience that have been incorporated into the life of the congregation?” Of pastors the guidelines ask, “Are there any parts of the renewal experience that have been incorporated into the routine of your life?” Some grant funding may be set aside for pastors’ post-leave activities, including follow-up counseling, spiritual direction, continuing education, or personal fitness programs that are outgrowths of the renewal experience.
Before, during, and after—clergy renewal leaves create opportunities for entire congregations to attend to an “alternate tempo in their ministry,” as the Louisville Institute report puts it, enacting rhythms with the potential to alter a community’s business-as-usual pace. Whether you are a pastor or a lay person, exploring a renewal leave for yourself or for another, how could you imagine a clergy renewal leave impacting your congregation? What would the “success” of a renewal leave look like over time? These are questions to explore as your congregation discerns applying to the Clergy Renewal Programs.
Rev. Callie J. Smith is administrative assistant for the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary. She is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
The Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) seek to strengthen Christian congregations by providing opportunities for pastors to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection. To request permission to repost this content, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.