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Pastor and Church Sabbatical

posted Sep 24, 2014, 9:03 AM by Jamie Washam

Dear Church,

 

Some of you already know I will be on sabbatical for 5 weeks this autumn (4 weeks leave plus a week of vacation) from October 27-November 30.

 

Protestant church ministers (if their congregation is as wise and healthy as you are) are offered a sabbatical of 12-16 weeks every 5-7 years.[1] It's a chance to rest from the work of church ministry, and to renew their own spirits and calling. I'll be taking this cycle of sabbatical in three portions: the first this autumn, the second in January/February, and the final third following Easter in 2015.

 

A good definition of a minister’s sabbatical is to “discern your vocation apart from the input stream.” That is, to hear God’s call apart from the phone calls, the emails, the worship planning and creation, the committee meetings, and many other details that come up in the course of church ministry. It is also a time to explore other gifts, skills, disciplines and areas of knowledge that I don’t have time to in the midst of the ordinary demands of church life, and visit other churches. It’s a chance to remember that being a minister is not what I do, it’s who I am.

 

Some things I plan on doing with my time: researching and writing, sewing, gardening, reading. And: I will spend joyful time every day with my family—preacher’s kids are always at risk of seeing the Church as a sibling to be jealous of, and sabbatical is an opportunity to remember that family comes first.

 

The first thing I will do, though, every morning when I wake up is:  stretch, read scripture, and pray. One of the people I will be praying for is you. 

 

I'm hoping this time will be a chance for you, as well, to rest: on the positive flow we have created at Underwood Church and God has created for us.

 

If you're interested in all the fine print, read on! And feel free to email or talk to me with any questions.

 

Peace,

Pastor Jamie

 

~

 

Our Pastor, Rev. Jamie Washam, begins her sabbatical this autumn! This FAQ can help you understand what this will mean for the life of our church.

 

What is a pastor’s sabbatical? How is it different from a vacation?

 

The root word of “sabbatical” is Sabbath, as in, the seventh day that God the Creator ordained for rest from work. It is a commandment, one of the Ten Bigs. In Jewish agrarian theology, when most people farmed the land, sabbath developed into a rhythmic cycle of rest not just for people, but for animals, and for the land itself: every seven years, fields were to lie fallow, every seven-times-seven years, slaves were granted their freedom.

 

Sabbatical for professors and others is often understood as a time to do research, travel, and publish, lest they perish. But ministers preserve and recuperate this ancient, holy sense of sabbatical:  not as vacation, but as a time of holy rest, attention to God, and dedicated spiritual renewal. The American Baptist Churches recommend that ministers take a sabbatical of at least 12 weeks paid leave every 5-7 years. This practice of ministry has support across denominational lines and within the American Baptist Church family.  The Ministers Council of the American Baptist Churches calls upon churches who work in partnership with ministerial leaders to provide sabbatical study leaves.

Pastors are called to a servant ministry. Officially prepared for this service with four years of college, three years of seminary, and often beyond, and practically schooled by knowing and loving and learning from the church and people they serve. However, this preparation is only the beginning of a need for lifetime learning, renewal, and upgrading of a pastor’s understanding of faith and its application to life.  

Due to the nature of servant ministry, adequate time and space for in-depth study and reflection is rarely available during or on the field of service. The pressure of time and of responsibility depletes a pastor's resources over a period of years.

The purpose of the Sabbatical Study Leave is to provide respite from the intense practice of ministry with its multifaceted demands. Such periods of renewal, learning, and reflection serve to inspire pastors and churches so they might, in turn, serve more ably and fully.

In 2001, Underwood Church affirmed a policy providing for Pastoral Sabbath time after seven years of Pastoral service. As of September 2014, Pastor Jamie will have served Underwood for 11 years. In October, Pastor Jamie concludes her term as President of ABC of WI. It has been a meaningful and full year, one where she chaired the search committee for our new Executive Minister of the ABC of WI, continued as the Vice Chair of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, in addition to other ministerial responsibilities.  Our balcony construction project is set to conclude prior to the sabbatical, and the Pastor’s last scheduled wedding is October 25, 2014. October is also clergy appreciation month, so it is a fitting time to kick this off!

The Pastor will take the sabbatical in 3 shares: first in October/November 2014, second as an extension of her academic time in the Netherlands in January/February 2015, and third after Easter 2015.

 

Oct 27 – Nov 30 2014 (5 weeks, 4 sabbatical + 1 vacation)

Jan/Feb 2015 (6 weeks, 4 sabbatical + standard 2 week study time)

Post Easter 2014 (8 weeks)

 

 The sabbatical shares will be apportioned into times for rest, reading and study, reflection, and re-emergence. Pastor Jamie will use this time to rest, exercise, focus on her doctoral studies, travel, pray, and restore her spirit. This is also a time for the church to do likewise. This time is a Sabbatical for both pastor and church. The church will rest and hear new voices in worship, read scripture individually and together, reflect on who and what God is calling them to do and to be, and re-emerge with new purpose and passion into the ministry of the church in the world.

 

 

 

When are you actually away, Pastor?

 

I am away from working at Underwood Baptist for 5 weeks, from October 27-November 30. Wauwatosa and Milwaukee are small big towns, so when I’m home you will probably see me around! Don’t cross the street and ignore me if you see me coming! Stop and say hi! Give me some hugs!

 

In the meantime, I will be available by phone, email or appointment until October 24th, if there’s anything you want to talk to me about before sabbatical begins.

 

 

Who will oversee things while she is away?

During the pastoral sabbatical the pastor’s duties will be maintained by a cross section of people, both within and from outside the church.  The pulpit will be filled by both lay and guest preachers. We may have a hymn sing Sunday. Pastoral care will be assumed by the members of the church and by area clergy. Sabbatical time is an opportunity for the church to live into its professed theology of being a priesthood of all believers.

 

The members of the church council are available to you if you are in crisis, sick, need someone to pray with you, are lonely for a visit. A list of council members is found at the bottom of this FAQ. Their contact info is in the church office. Sabbatical is a good time to practice this art of minister to and with one another. Look for ways to love and support one another, and activate your own spiritual gifts.

 

Robin, our practiced and proficient administrator, will continue to run the office and the building. If you have a building or scheduling issue, you may contact her at underwoodchurchoffice@gmail.com.

 

 

Pastor Jamie, how will you be unavailable?

 

I will unavailable by email or by phone from October 27-November 30. I will be on Facebook periodically, but will probably not post or check it consistently, so that is not a reliable way to reach me.

 

Pastor Jamie, how will you be available?

 

I will be praying for my church community, and the people within it whom I love and cherish, daily.

 

If there is an emergency of which I need to be made aware, our moderator, Chad or church administrator, Robin will contact me. I will be kept apprised of critical pastoral care issues:  deaths, serious illnesses, and the like. You can let Chad or Robin know if there is an urgent message you wish to convey to me.

 

What will this cost?

During the sabbatical the church maintains regular salary, housing, MMBB retirement, and health benefits. The cost of replacement personnel during the leader's absence will be covered by the church.

Although on the face of it, the Sabbatical Leave may seem like yet another financial burden to bear, it is crucial for the congregation to recognize the long-term benefits they as a church will reap from granting Sabbaticals. The primary additional expense to the church during sabbatical time is for pulpit supply and/or a possible short term interim. By spreading this over more than one fiscal year, the church can ease the burden.  

Often, churches require a guarantee of one year of service afterward the conclusion of a sabbatical. The church council approved a no-strings-attached sabbatical in order to keep options open to do what is best for the Washam Unaka family. Since NJ earned his PhD in June, their family is at a natural crossroads, and the church wants to support the pastoral needs in realistic and beneficial ways. Pastor Jamie will have given 11+ years of ministry with Underwood at the time of the leave; it is a sabbatical for service already rendered.

 

How will this benefit the congregation?

Even Jesus said, “It is to your advantage that I go away.” Congregations report that when their ministers come back from sabbatical, they are more productive. They bring fresh ideas and new spiritual energy back from their time of renewal.

 

But the benefit to the parish begins right away. Sometimes, even the healthiest churches fall into codependent patterns between pastors and congregation. Sabbatical is an opportunity for new leadership to arise, for laypeople to have the blessing of knowing they can truly depend upon one another, and for you to exercise new muscles for administration and pastoral care in your church, and find it a joy.

 Upon re-entry, the pastor will share with the congregation the details of the leave as well as reflections on its value and benefit. The re-entry process provides a great opportunity to reflect upon the benefits that resulted from the Sabbath Leave. Such expected benefits as:

·         ·  Discovering the strength of lay leadership heretofore fallow

·         ·  New understandings of the concepts of service between clergy and congregation

·         ·  Reaffirmation of calling to ministry on part of clergy and congregation with both being reinvigorated and rededicated to the work of God’s people.

The ideal result would be for the congregation to see this period of time not just as the clergy’s Sabbath Leave but as the congregation’s Sabbath Leave.

 

During this time Pastor Jamie will be relieved of all church responsibilities and communication. You will be pastored at this time. I'm hoping this time will be a chance for you, as well, to rest: on the positive flow we have created at Underwood Church and God has created for us. We all need Sabbath.

A Sabbatical Leave can be a catalyst for new directions of ministry. If the ministerial leader is renewed only, then the church has missed a creative opportunity for a closer walk in ministry and service with Christ. The results of the Sabbatical Leave must be experienced beyond a few months during and following the leave.

The purpose of the sabbatical is to provide room for the pastor and church to rest and be restored, so that they can in turn be more able and willing to serve God well in the world. If after a sabbatical the Pastor and church are more able to turn interruptions into welcome ministry opportunities, then we will have accomplished a successful sabbatical.

 

I remind you that Underwood Church has survived maternity leaves for 3 children, and will have capably thrive during a pastoral sabbatical. Our church functions very well in the absence of its minister!



[1] Thanks to Rev. Molly Baskette of First Church Somerville, MA for her sabbatical template letter.

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