Easter comes early this year, but let’s look beyond that April 1, Sunday. For April through July, I will be on sabbatical, as per the terms of my contract with you. I mention it now so that it doesn’t sneak up on us and surprise us in two months.
My sabbatical was intended for 2017, alas, when the roof was dicey. I wasn’t leaving as heavy, heavy hung over our heads for that daunting moment. So now pieces (other than the roof) are in place that will allow me to go and rest, to read and learn, to draw apart and become eager to return and engage, enjoying some reflective repose to fuel my ministry for the next years. Gary will cover in my absence, as spring yields to summer, a lighter season in our common life. Of course, I trust you all to rise up in support of Gary as he guides the mother ship.
Ideally, sabbaticals are meant to be healthy for pastors and congregations alike. At times a planned period of separation and intentional return helps to maintain engaged faith and healthy relationships within the community. We know there is a season and a time for every matter in the church; a time to step up, and a time to step back; a time to grab hold and a time to let go; a time to act and a time be still. Rev. Matthew Laney, formerly of Asylum Hill Congregational, UCC, wisely writes, “In either case, we discover anew that the church is God’s, not ours. We are wanted, but not needed. Loved, but not required. When we assume too much ownership, we inevitably turn ourselves into an idol and then miss the real thing.”
All of that is healthy. I surely am ready for this time. The past six years have been a workout in the way that ministry will always be gloriously demanding as it gets wholeheartedly embraced. As I approach 40 years of ministry, I’ve essentially had a sabbatical ever ten years: Costa Rica (‘90), Vermont (‘01) Isla de Margarita (‘09). I am not sure that 40 years of productive ministry would have been possible without them. In the past I’ve enjoyed Lilly Foundation funding, but not this time.
Books resulted from my first three sabbaticals, one on authority in theology, the second as a how-to for mission and outreach, and the most recent as a theology of human intimacy. This time my plan is to go simpler and stay closer to home, as my Cecile can’t draw apart with me. As the founding partner her Healthy Child pediatric practice, duties remain demanding. I will rent a flat in New York City for the months after Easter, where I can be close both to my daughter as well as to Cecile. I will work on adding variety and options to the New Common Lectionary.
As we know, the lectionary runs in a three-year cycle–year A, year B, year C. I will cobble together an alternative lectionary year—a J or Jubilee year—when preachers can explore greater Biblical breadth and wander into texts not served up in the existing three-year rotation. This way we preachers can more fully and systematically explore the Bible’s splendid variety in voice, story, and accent. I am grateful for your support in this and I welcome any questions you might have.