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.
While Pastor Pam was on sabbatical, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church entered into a period of discovery about how we as a congregation can reach out beyond the congregation, into our community, to carry out ministry. We are a small congregation, and finding new leaders is always a challenge for us. One goal while she was on sabbatical was to continue to develop leadership among the people we have.
Our substitute pastor for the sabbatical was a retired pastor (“Pastor Mark”) who is a member of our congregation. He and another neighboring pastor (“Pastor Malcolm”) each coached us in reaching out into the circles of our friendships, family relationships, and especially in the community. During the season of Lent, at a midweek worship service, Pastor Mark invited members of the congregation to tell our faith stories – what the cross means to us. The excitement of this storytelling built as the season of Lent progressed, and more and more people attended the midweek worship service . . .
At the same time, Pastor Malcolm helped a group of people who were focused on reaching out to the neighborhood of the church to plan an experiment. We decided to offer lunches to neighborhood schoolchildren three times each week during the summer. The lunches are available through a federally funded program; all we had to do was find volunteers to serve three times a week, and to get the word out in the neighborhood . . .
Many other areas of congregational life were impacted by Pastor’s sabbatical. Our worship committee took a greater share of the responsibility for designing worship, especially the music of worship. After Pastor Pam’s return, the committee and the pastor together have forged a collaborative approach to worship that uses the committee’s gifts, and frees the pastor to do the work she does best.
The grant allowed us to employ an “inreach” coordinator a few hours each week. She made sure that volunteers were available to take care of every aspect of congregational life, including especially calling on homebound members . . . We had several funerals while Pastor Pam was away, for which Pastor Mark needed our support. We came together to attend to the bereaved families, to make sure the details of the services came together, and to serve at receptions.
We were surprised to discover that there was a freshness and renewal going on within the congregation, even while our pastor had stepped away . . .
We followed our pastor’s progress while she was on sabbatical by reading the blog she wrote. When she returned, we shared our experience of the sabbatical with her, through intentional meetings and one-on-one conversations. A homecoming party was held, at which she shared her insights and slides from her sabbatical. We are delighted with the rest and relaxation we see in her, now that she has been back in the church for several months. This piece has been adapted from the reflections of congregation members from Prince of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church of Shoreline, Washington, served by the Rev. Pamela Russell, who assert that they “strongly endorse” the experience of clergy renewal leaves.
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.