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Sabbaticals Help Clergy Reconnect, Recharge

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The 24/7 nature of ministry can lead to burnout. Thanks to the Clergy Renewal Program at Christian Theological Seminary, ministers are finding the time and money to recharge their spiritual batteries.

The Rev. James Lamkin says a recent sabbatical changed his life and ministry.

It gave him a new attitude, what he now calls a “sabbatitude.”

Before taking the 2005 break, during which he toured Africa and studied the works of C.S. Lewis in Oxford, England, Lamkin, senior pastor of Atlanta’s Northside Drive Baptist Church, struggled with the clerical temptation to worry, overdo and be “busier inside myself trying to please everybody.”

Thanks to his sabbatitude (a term he credits to friend Chris Graham, a United Church of Christ minister), Lamkin says he’s managed to keep – most of the time, anyway – “a sense of appropriate distance and rest [that] helps me give myself in more healthy ways rather than depleted ways.”

That’s just what The Louisville Institute hoped for when it instituted the Sabbatical Grant for Pastoral Leaders in 1994. Funds from the Lilly Endowment made the grants possible.  During its history, the program awarded more than 550 grants for all manner of respites. Although the Louisville Institute sabbatical program is no longer active, the Lilly Endowment continues to offer these grants through its Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary

Recipients of these grants from both programs used the money and time for rest, reflection, prayer, travel – or all of the above – with the primary intent of reconnecting in fresh ways with God.

The Rev. Bill Carter used his sabbatical to delve more deeply into the Psalms. The pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit, Penn., spent part of his time at a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico, part of his time at a small Scottish church where the unaccompanied singing of the Psalms is the congregation’s only form of singing, and the rest composing more than two dozen instrumental versions of the Psalms.

That last part owes to the fact that Carter is a jazz pianist in addition to being a pastor. He and his band, the Presbybop Quartet, have since recorded 22 of his Psalm creations on a double CD.

“It was a great deal of fun,” he says, to study the Psalms and ask “What is the right-brain response to this text?”

Such creativity was a great fruit of the any sabbatical time. Often, new writing emerges, broadening the minister’s audience. One pastor got a regular gig on the local NPR station afterward; others have picked up newspaper columns or contributed to religious newsletters. 

Sabbaticals typically enrich ministry in very tangible ways, but unexpected ways.

And most of the time, the minister’s congregation finds the sabbatical to be a blessing, too, despite sometimes resisting the idea at first.

A 2008 survey of sabbatical recipients and their churches helped to gauge those feelings. Congregations overwhelmingly reported that their ministers came back with a renewed vigor and commitment.

Indeed, despite a fear among some congregations that a sabbatical would be a catalyst for the minister’s permanent departure, the survey of 14 years’ worth of recipients found that more than 50 percent were still in the same position that they were in when they received the sabbatical.  Considering the general mobility of the clergy, this is a promising result.

The congregation often grows in leadership, as well. They become less dependent on the pastor. A healthier relationship ensues for both when there’s not a relationship of such dependency.

One of the sabbatical pastors had this beautiful phrase … "I came home able to love more because I was needed less."

And like the biblically commanded Sabbath, which springs from the same etymological roots, advocates hope sabbaticals will someday be viewed as part of the rhythm of a well-lived life.

 

Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary - See more at: http://www.cpx.cts.edu/renewal/#sthash.6qas7z4t.dpuf
Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary - See more at: http://www.cpx.cts.edu/renewal/#sthash.6qas7z4t.dpuf

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