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.
Our primary goal as a congregation was to seek out what “Sabbath Keeping” meant to us and how we incorporate this into our lives. This was to be a time of renewal and rest. It was also to be a time to discuss “building an effective long-term pastorate” and how we want to live into it with Frank. For both the pastor and the congregation, this period of renewal was an opportunity to step back, reflect, re-evaluate, and reconsider some of the things we were doing and why we were doing them.
The congregation came to be more aware of the multitude of things the pastor had taken on. Before he left for sabbatical, we had him make a list of tasks he did every day. Other people or groups took on many of those responsibilities while he was away. When he returned from sabbatical, most of those tasks did not go back to being his responsibilities. This has included lay leaders assisting with securing volunteers for activities such as serving communion or opening up the church on Sundays. The congregation has also learned the importance of balance when it comes to work and sabbath. They have experienced how important this is for their pastor and in their own lives.
He has returned truly rejuvenated, refreshed, and eager to get back to work. He also has learned the importance of balancing his work at the church and his home life with his family. He takes one sabbath day a week, does not answer e-mails when he is not working, and is not as available by cell phone at all hours as he was before sabbatical. Frank’s sermons are better; his leadership of Session, for instance with devotions, is more meaningful and impactful; and he is in closer touch with his spiritual side of faith.
Would you recommend to other congregations that they encourage and support a renewal program of this kind?
Yes. We believe everyone can benefit from a time of reflection and renewal—no matter the length of time. Unlike an office job, where much of work stays on the desk on the weekends, holidays, etc., a pastor—even unintentionally—takes his or her ”work” home, in the act of caring for members, responding to requests for help, etc. A sabbatical gives a needed opportunity for reflection and rejuvenation, not just for the pastor, but also for the congregation.
The above has been adapted from the reflections of congregation members from John Knox Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana, served by Rev. Frank Mansell III.
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.