This will be my last Midweek article for a while. Early next Wednesday morning, David and I will be leaving town as the first days of my sabbatical begin. I will be away for four weeks, and I am so very grateful for this time to rest and regroup. Many of you have asked, "what exactly is a sabbatical?" I'd like to take some time this week to explain it to you.
Many people hear the word sabbatical and often think of the academic world, where it is common for a professor to take a full year of sabbatical time after seven years of teaching, dedicated to research, travel, and writing.
The word sabbatical comes from the word sabbath, the Biblical day of rest, found in the creation story of Genesis 1. "And on the seventh day, God rested." In Leviticus 23, this idea is expanded from one day a week, to a full year of sabbatical, where not only were the people commanded to rest, but also not to plow their fields or work in their vineyards. A year for the land to lie fallow and rest.
Why am I taking a sabbatical? In simple terms, to rest, renew, learn, and grow. This summer marks the end of five years of ministry at Union. There are four specific things about myself and about pastoral ministry that I've learned over these past five years.
I have learned that my calling requires spiritual vitality. I have found that it is extremely hard for me to have the needed time each week to devote to prayer and study. A sabbatical will provide that type of focused time.
I have learned that the nature of pastoral work requires a great deal of emotional work - caring for a congregation that you love - work that never takes a break.
I have learned that David and I need some time together, as our callings have kept us apart for the majority of these five years.
I have learned that it is healthy for the church for me to step away. As I was told recently, "you like to be in charge," I have come to realize even more, that it is vitally important to empower members of the congregation to lead in ministry. A sabbatical provides intentional time for that.
Author Ruth Haley Barton says, "we are starved for rest, to know God beyond what we can do for him. We are starved for quiet, to hear the sound of sheer silence that is the presence of God himself." She shares the story of a friend who told her, "Ruth, you are like a jar of river water all shaken up. What you need is to sit still long enough that the sediment can settle and the water become clear." I, too, see myself in that river water and am eagerly anticipating the time and space to become clear.
This Sunday I will be preaching from 1 Kings 19, the story of Elijah, It is a beautiful story of Sabbath Rest, where Elijah finds God, not in the noise and busyness, but in a still, small voice. May we all allow ourselves the quiet to hear that same voice of God.