Renewing call and clarity

Posted Sep 06, 2016 | Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs

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This blog post is part of a series that features guest posts from pastors who have participated in Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal grants. We wish to highlight some helpful approaches to the process which have allowed these grants to be blessings to both the pastors who go on renewal leaves and to the congregations themselves. 

The primary goal of the program was to help me renew my sense of call so that I can embark on the second five years of ministry with a fresh sense of purpose and joy. Another goal of the program was to hear cross-cultural stories, in order to better understand the experiences of immigrants and refugees in the United States. My hope was that by hearing the stories of people from other cultures, I can be better equipped to lead a multi-cultural church. 

I do feel that I returned from sabbatical re-energized by my experiences, and with greater clarity about the kind of ministry to which I am called. It was so refreshing to step away from the demands of daily ministry, both literally and figuratively. Within three days of starting my sabbatical, I traveled half-way around the globe to Sri Lanka, where my phone did not work and email access was limited. It was really helpful to have that physical distance to force me to let go of my connection with the congregation and focus my attention on something entirely different.

With the generous support of the grant, I was able to savor really good food and enjoy beautiful places without worrying about the cost. I was able to spend time reconnecting with friends who remind me who I am and what I value. I was able to revisit places and people who shaped my call to ministry. With my soul at rest and time to reflect on the first five years of my ministry, I felt a strong sense of contentment about my work, and a sense of joy about returning to that work at the end of the sabbatical.

As a single minister, I have many friends who have become like family to me. I was able to include several of these friends in my renewal project travels, including taking trips together that we would not have been able to afford without the grant. It truly nurtured my spirit to have extended time with these special people in my life. It helped me reconnect with who I am and gave us chances to reflect and dream together in meaningful ways. Those deepened relationships are the ones which will continue to sustain me throughout my ministry, as they are the ones I will call on when I need a listening ear.

I re-learned how I like to spend my free time, when I do not have other responsibilities pulling at me. I think I was surprised by the degree to which my sense of self had become tied to being immersed in the church. I learned that some of my identity and self-worth had become tied up in being able to respond to the needs of others, and was able to think about other things in which to root my identity and value. I returned to my duties with a better perspective, and more freedom to feel like I don’t have to respond to every request and be at every meeting. In fact, I feel now that it is important to give space to others to step up and take on some things that I might have done before.

Because my sabbatical was so helpful for me in renewing my energy for my work, I have also become an advocate for church leaders taking a “sabbatical” from their leadership roles in the church. Often, we urge lay leaders to continue in their position as officers for much longer than is healthy, because it is difficult to find a new person to take their place. I have encouraged those who have served more than two years to consider taking a break for at least a year, and mentoring a new leader to take their place. I hope that this will have a long-term impact on our leaders, both allowing new leaders to step up and long-serving leaders time to renew their energy for serving the church.

I strongly recommend involving church members in planning the renewal project and writing the grant proposal. I did include several adult church members in the visioning and writing process, and it was very helpful to get their input. It also gave the church a sense of involvement and ownership of the sabbatical process, so it was not just about me as the pastor leaving for three months, but about a process that the entire congregation was undertaking. They were more supportive because of this.

This piece has been adapted from the reflections of the Rev. Diane Elizabeth Faires of St. Paul’s Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Raleigh, North Carolina.

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 clergyrenewal@cts.edu.

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