Responding to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic has been taxing for congregational leaders. Even in December as many congregants were able to take vacation from work responsibilities, many clergy and other ministry leaders found ourselves with more work than usual, and so, we are starting 2021 keenly aware of a need for a break. 

While an increasing number of congregations and denominations are supporting ministry leaders in taking sabbaticals, we can help our congregations understand why we need them.

In this week’s Weekly, we think about the preparatory work for a sabbatical. Robert Saler, the director of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs, starts this edition by helping us think about how we talk to our congregations about sabbaticals. Then, we’ve included a few articles that are perfect for sharing with your congregation. Gretchen Ziegenhals of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity reminds us that to be fully creative in our ministries we need the gift of liminal spaces in our lives, while Jessica Young Brown says that ministers cannot thrive if we neglect ourselves. Finally, Chanequa Walker-Barnes challenges the assumption that time away is really about helping us work harder when we get back. 

Welcome to the Weekly. 

How to talk about clergy sabbaticals

“Why don’t I get a vacation, too?” How to talk about clergy sabbaticals

Helping our congregations understand what a sabbatical is — and isn’t — may have the added benefit of helping them understand why they need to find sabbath space in their own lives, writes the director of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs.

Resources for leaders during the pandemic

Leadership and liminality

In this article perfect for sharing with your lay leadership teams, Gretchen Ziegenhals argues that, when ministry leaders don’t have space and time “in-between,” we lose the ability to take stock of where we have been, where we are and where we might go from here. (And she doesn’t mean what congregation we’re moving to next.)

Ministers cannot thrive if they neglect themselves

Ministers cannot thrive if they neglect themselves

Jessica Young Brown, a professor of counseling and practical theology, offers a different vision of ministry — one where we bring all that we are to the work. To do that, though, we must care for every aspect of our lives, and a sabbatical is a perfect time to begin doing that.

The purpose of rest is to enable us to work harder, right?

The purpose of rest is to enable us to work harder, right?

There’s an assumption that says that we take a break only so we can work more on the other side. Psychologist and seminary professor Chanequa Walker-Barnes helps us challenge this assumption for ourselves and our congregations.

From the Alban Library

Clergy Renewal: The Alban Guide to Sabbatical Planning

by A. Richard Bullock and Richard Bruesehoff

Clergy Renewal: The Alban Guide to Sabbatical Planning

Planned time away from the parish for study, rest, and spiritual renewal can be beneficial — and often necessary — for any pastor, as well as for the congregation. In this thoroughly revised and expanded edition of Alban’s popular Sabbatical Planning for Clergy and Congregations, Bullock and Bruesehoff provide the definitive guide to putting together refreshing pastoral sabbaticals that can help keep ministry vital and growing for the long term.

Before you go…

I am grateful to this week’s contributors because they name something that I can forget — when ministry leaders take sabbaticals, we offer our congregations the gift of our example. Unlike other professionals on sabbatical, particularly academics, the aim of a clergy sabbatical is not to produce more but to rest in God and find renewal for our spirits. As Robert Saler suggests, this is a critique of a culture that says we are what we produce, that our value is in the hours we work or the money that we earn. 

Congregations and people of faith everywhere need a reminder that our value lies elsewhere. So, if you have not considered taking a sabbatical, I hope you will find encouragement in this Weekly to start that conversation. We need your example.

We’ll see you next week, and in the meantime, peace! 

Nathan Kirkpatrick

Managing Director, Alban at Duke Divinity

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