One of the blessings of serving this congregation as a pastor is the gift of a sabbatical every seven years. My time away begins on August 1, and I have some plans to share.

Last year I applied for a grant from the National Clergy Renewal Program, sponsored by the Lilly Endowment, which awards sabbatical grants of up to $50,000 to individual congregations each year. Like all sabbaticals, the grants “provide an opportunity for pastors to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection. Renewal periods are not vacations but times for intentional exploration and reflection, for drinking again from God’s life-giving waters, for regaining enthusiasm and creativity for ministry.”

Working with a small team of church members and leaders, I designed a sabbatical proposal to renew and sustain ministry both for me and for you. I am grateful to report that the Lilly Endowment awarded us one of their sabbatical grants for this year.

The focus of my sabbatical is “Paying Attention.” I will be paying attention to words and writing, to my family, to health, and to God. I will do some study and work in writing, particularly writing about faith, and using writing as a spiritual practice both for myself, and for others within and outside the church. I’ve participated for 15 years in a writing workshop of bereaved mothers, and have found it to be life-giving and even soul-saving for me. Lately I’ve been feeling the nudging of God to integrate that very private writing work into my ministry. During my sabbatical I’ll be trained in how to lead similar workshops.  I’ll also work on paying attention to my family with some family travel to Europe, and to my health in some concentrated ways. I’ll conclude the sabbatical by walking 102 miles of the pilgrimage way of the Camino de Santiago.

One valuable feature of the Lilly grant is that a portion of the funds are to be used for congregational renewal activities. My clergy relations team is helping plan two ways the congregation will take part in paying attention to God, ourselves, and to our neighbors. The first is a writing residency that will take place over the weekend of November 30-December 2. We’ll host a writer in residence who, along with me, will lead a weekend of various writing opportunities about grief, faith, joy, and who knows what else. Stay tuned for more to come about how you can participate. The second exciting congregational piece brings in a textile artist this fall to help students create a collaborative art piece to represent the new Billingsville and Cotswold Elementary School partnership. Thanks to Ali Hoce and Lecil Sullivan for helping coordinate work on this way to pay attention to our neighbors in Grier Heights, and celebrate new relationships with beautiful art.

Thanks to you all for being a congregation that supports pastors with sabbatical time, and to the Lilly Foundation for helping fund the renewal leave. For more information on the grant we’ve received, click here.