By congregation members from New Hope Presbyterian Church, Fishers, IN
This blog post is part of a series that features guest posts from members of congregations that have received Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal grants. We wish to highlight the ways in which these grants are blessings, not only to the pastors who go on renewal leaves, but to the congregations themselves.
The goals of our renewal program centered in the theme of “abundant life,” for both our pastor and our congregation. We were confident that Steve would enjoy some very productive time of rest, renewal, and reflection, and it certainly appeared he did just that. From the perspective of New Hope, we wanted to provide opportunities for our many congregational leaders to ‘step up’ and take charge of our spiritual direction in ways that they have not done in the past. Several of our lay leaders did that, primarily in the areas of planning team organization and Sunday sermon delivery.
Many individuals within our congregational family stepped up to make a significant impact during Steve’s absence. With the necessarily advance preparation and planning, various lay leaders participated by delivering the sermon on Sunday morning or serving as a liturgist or preparing sermon study guides. A general “can do” spirit reigned throughout and served as a springboard for this spiritual growth. One younger member of the congregation, who was relatively unknown, served as a guest preacher and was later elected as a Deacon—largely as a result of her public introduction to the congregation that Sunday morning and her moving and faithful sermon.
The rest of the church staff performed extremely well during Steve’s absence—thanks to their advance preparation and willingness to accept this challenge. Our ministry assistant, in particular, handled the situation of the illness and death of a long-time member with grace, leadership, and professionalism. Steve very much enjoyed his time away to relax and refresh, and he returned to our congregation full of energy and life.
The growth and spiritual maturity of our congregation was something we had hoped for but did not take for granted. We learned that worship and spiritual growth is a matter of the Spirit combined with a willingness to grow—not a “movement” that is solely the product of good leadership. We turned some of our “passive” leaders into “active” leaders.
We would recommend the program to other congregations. With adequate preparation and communication, the sabbatical can provide a wonderful rest and renewal opportunity for the pastor, while also giving the congregation the opportunity to try some new things, grow in their confidence in each other, and develop and strengthen leaders.
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The above has been adapted from the reflections of congregation members from New Hope Presbyterian Church, Fishers, IN, served by Rev. Steven Ebling.
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.