I was the luckiest kid in the world. I was raised in the big city that produced my favorite thing in the world: automobiles. Vroom! Vroom! I am a Motor City boy. But at least once every month, during summers for weeks at a time, I was on the farm where my father was raised. I would go out in the fields with my grandfather on the side of his tractor and see the world from an entirely different perspective.
They grew wheat, green beans, corn, beets, soybeans, straw, alfalfa—you get the idea. Every growing season I noticed that a different field went unplanted. It wasn’t a big farm, just 160 acres. Finally, I asked my grandfather how he could run a farm and allow valuable property to fall into disuse. Oh, the 35 dairy cattle would graze there, but otherwise that precious space was utterly unproductive.
My grandpa Vernon explained it wasn’t disuse or unproductiveness. It was lying fallow. Big difference. Overall, he explained, that field is more productive lying fallow on the odd year than it was being planted every year. I didn’t believe him. I didn’t believe that was possible. But all they had to make a living was the earth. They knew a whole lot more about its proper stewardship than this city boy. They perceived the fruitfulness of life in its natural cycles in ways I failed to perceive.
Since then, I have learned the same lesson over and again. Did you know that if you work for 55 minutes instead of a whole hour, you’ll be more productive? That question appeared on the Graduate Record Examination for graduate students in psychology. Did you know that if you work six days instead of seven you achieve more and are more content? I learned that from theologian Walter Brueggemann and my early ministry, where I attempted to work seven days, but got less done. We’re talking about the logic of Sabbath, God’s different way of living and being.
By the terms of my contract, I plan to lie fallow and do different things for the four months beginning on the Monday after Easter. It is called a Sabbatical and was actually scheduled for last year. But the year before, the roof almost caved in and I wasn’t about to abandon you as we were all fending off disaster. Now in year 39 of my ministry, I’ve had a sabbatical every 10 years. Without those sabbaticals along the way, I truly doubt that I would have remained in the ministry this long.
I’ll work on other projects, rest and exercise, travel and see friends I usually can’t see working my usual six plus days per week the last 61/2 years. I’ll necessarily recuse myself from the life of FCC, Darien and be incommunicado for this time. You can’t plant a few plants in the field. It must go completely fallow. I leave you in the competent hands of the Rev. Gary Morello, Christine Geeding, our staff, Council, Philip Jacobs and lay leadership of First Congregational Church, Darien. Within weeks, FCC, D will shift into our slower, warm weather way of life anyway.
Thank you all for my sabbatical; it will bring me back with new gusto to serve you. Between now and then I can’t wait to celebrate together the greatest day, Easter! New life, awaits us, friends, in all kinds of directions. See you at 7, 9, or 11 am.