I’m writing this note to update you on my summer Sabbatical from May 1 through July 31. This July will mark my seventh year at First Churches. Seven years is often a significant psychological time marker. (Think 7 days of creation, the 7 Years War, 7 Year Itch!) A wise person told me long-term pastors need to reinvent themselves every seven years. Otherwise either the pastor or the congregation get bored with the other. While I don’t yet think of myself as a long-term pastor at First Churches, since Solomon Stoddard served here for 55 years, seven years does mark longer term commitment in the modern era.
After spending some time thinking about what would benefit my growth as a pastor, I concluded what I really need is a pilgrimage. Pilgrimages are a way of physically and spiritually being on a journey to deepen faith. I am drawn to St. Francis, who has inspired a wide range people, including the Social Gospel emphasis on serving poor people, care of all of creation, and a life of simplicity. So, for the first leg of my Sabbatical pilgrimage, Jeanne and I are planning to journey to Northern Italy and bike part of the St. Francis pilgrimage between Florence and Assisi. We will also visit Jeanne’s childhood friends in Switzerland.
In June and July, I will be spending time reflecting more on the trip and St. Francis and having a series of silent retreats built upon Franciscan spirituality. I also plan to have a reading list about reform movements that combine spirituality, social justice and innovations in church structures. Jeanne and I also plan to garden, hike and ride our bikes a great deal. I will periodically share some of our travels and insights on my blog.
I also want to share a few thoughts about what happens while I am gone. As part of our Call Agreements, Pastor Sarah and I can take a three-month Sabbatical every six years. We are to submit proposals to the Administrative Board, so appropriate preparations can be made for our absence. You may have noticed that a line item was included in our FY2018-19 budget, approved at the last Annual Meeting to cover the cost of additional pastoral support. I have submitted dates and my outline to the Board and we have been working to make sure things are covered; such as extra help with preaching, visitation, administration and preparing the annual budget. We will be sharing more details in the coming weeks. I am concerned that we all have realistic expectations of our staff, especially Pastor Sarah, during this time. I have faith in all our leadership to carry on for these three months. But all the work can’t be heaped on staff or a few lay leaders, and sometimes things will happen slowly, and we will need patience.
I am grateful for this opportunity for renewal and hope to return with a deeper sense of my ministry at First Churches for the future. I am glad to be transitioning into being a long-term pastor. If you have thoughts or questions, please feel free to contact me or our Moderator, MJ Adams.