Ministerial Sabbatical 1: Purpose

On April 1, I will begin my sabbatical that will go through August 31. I have been asked recently if I’m getting excited. Well … not yet. My colleague, Rev. Sharon Wyle, wrote this before going on her sabbatical, and it reflects my feelings:

I didn’t become a minister in order to leave my congregation, and to be apart from you for months at a time. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to be going on sabbatical and am looking forward to it. I haven’t had time off like this—substantial time off without stress or worry—since childhood. But I consider the taking of sabbatical to be one of the disciplines of being a minister.

In 2010, the New York Times reported that “Members of the clergy…suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants had risen, while their life expectancy had fallen.”

The New York Times article goes on to report on the importance for clergy—like all of us—to take time off. And I have been very disciplined about taking my regular vacation and study leave. One of the challenges of the minister’s schedule is that I only have one day off a week—Monday—and so taking my vacation and study leave is very important just for getting through the regular church year.

But sabbatical is something different, and it’s something different in religious life than it is in academia, where we’re most familiar with the idea of sabbatical. In academia, sabbatical has a PURPOSE; it’s considered an investment in the future of the institution, and professors are expected to return to work with something to show from their time off: having written something, or studied something, or collaborated on work with others.

But in religious life, sabbatical simply means “rest.” The word “sabbatical” shares etymology with the Hebrew “Shabbat” and its Anglicized term “Sabbath,” days of rest. Literally, these words mean “ceasing.”

Like a field needs rest, needs to simply lie fallow in order to return to productivity, so do we.

It’s a really good piece – she gave it as a sermon – and I recommend all of it to anyone interested in learning more about ministerial sabbaticals: Pre-Sabbatical Sermon: All the Things .

I’m going to miss everyone like crazy, and this work. But I am touched at the level of care implicit in a church saying, “Go away for a bit. Find renewal. We’ll be fine, and we’ll do great things together when you get back.” I am grateful beyond words for the members of Live Oak.

Next week, I’ll write about how things will work here at Live Oak while I’m away.