In the fall of 2019, we received a Clergy Renewal Grant from the Lilly Foundation. The grant, which is awarded to approximately 140 congregations nationwide each year, provides clergy with 3-5 months of uninterrupted rest, reflection, and renewal. It also gives congregations funding to undertake their own renewal project. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, our pastor’s sabbatical was postponed from summer 2020 to spring and summer 2021.
WHAT IS A SABBATICAL?
The word sabbatical has its roots in the Biblical concept of Sabbath (“to rest” or “to cease”). One of the Ten Commandments is “to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy,” a reminder from God that rest is essential to our lives and work. Yet, most pastors don’t have an “off” switch. They go to sleep with the knowledge they could be awakened by a phone call at any time of the day. Sabbatical leave is a time for our priest to shift gears in order to rest, disengage, study, reflect and travel in order to return to minister among us refreshed and renewed in body, mind and spirit. It’s also more than a vacation from meetings, budgets, sermons, and people in need. It’s time to gain a new perspective and a deepened relationship with God, self, and family. Click here and here about the importance of sabbaticals in stemming the tide of clergy burnout.
Sabbaticals are now standard in all Episcopal churches (and many other denominations). Most congregations report that their priest returns refreshed and revitalized, and that the parish moves on to new phases of ministry. Mother Maria’s letter of agreement with St. Paul’s specifies that she is eligible for a sabbatical every five years but the pandemic placed last year’s sabbatical plans on hold. (Her 7th anniversary is Sep. 1)
WHAT WILL THIS COST THE CHURCH?
Nothing. In 2019, we received a Clergy Renewal Grant of $49,631.45 from the Lilly Foundation. This grant, along with the $2000 that the congregation has allotted annually since 2014 for the sabbatical will cover all costs for both the congregation and Mother Maria.
WHEN WILL MOTHER MARIA BE GONE?
Mother Maria’s last Sunday will be April 18. Her first Sunday back will be September 12.
WHAT WILL MOTHER MARIA DO ON HER SABBATICAL?
As a student of history and religion, Mother Maria’s intends to visit three “birthplaces” of religious history: Christianity (Israel—tentatively, June); U.S. religious freedom (Rhode Island—July); and, Anglicanism (England and Iona—August). She will also use the time to attend to a growing stack of books; meet regularly with her spiritual director and therapist; and, reconnect with family, friends, and nature visa vie shorter trips in May. As Mother Maria wrote in the renewal grant application:
As a child, my grandmother often said to me, “remember who you are and whose you are.” It was her way of reminding me to remember that no matter what others say I am a child of God; I am beloved and I belong. Her words, the truth of my baptism, and the psalmist’s refrain have been the foundation of my life and a source of strength and courage. However, as a pastor I live in the tension of others’ myriad expectations and needs. It’s easy for me to focus on what people want and need from me rather than who I am—beloved. My sabbatical is designed to nourish and deepen the roots that have formed, guided, and now sustain me: history, spirituality, writing, the ocean, and my family—including my godchildren.
WILL THE CHURCH BE IN A “HOLDING PATTERN” WHILE MOTHER MARIA IS AWAY?
No! This special time will also be a season of growth for the entire parish. It is important to remember that the sabbatical is a two-way process: while Maria is on her journey of renewal, we will embark on a journey as well. In fact, as we wrote in our Lilly Foundation Clergy Renewal application:
As a congregation of diverse cultures, languages, and perspectives, our renewal period is designed as a time of refreshment and discovery for both Mother Maria and the church. We will learn about, embrace, and build upon our roots—as individuals and as members of a local church community, the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the body of Christ writ large…one way we will do this is by undertaking a congregational oral history project—gathering the faith stories and experiences of everyone in the congregation in order to better understand what makes us who we are and how we can learn from one another and further create a culture and community of welcome and belonging.
WHO WILL COVER MOTHER MARIA’S RESPONSIBILITIES IN HER ABSENCE?
The vestry and committee chairs will be taking on a bit more responsibility in each of their areas to continue our ministries while Mother Maria is away. Per Episcopal Church canons (church laws), when the rector is not present, the Senior Warden (Sewell Truitte) is the designated “person-in-charge.” Sewell will be amply supported by Cheryl Williams, our Junior Warden.
The Rev. Linda Calkins, who recently retired as the rector of St. Bartholomew’s Church, Laytonsville, will serve as the Priest-in-Residence. Rev. Linda, as she prefers to be called, will lead worship each week, provide pastoral care, and offer counsel and support to the vestry and wardens as needed. Although we had originally planned to have a different priest-in-residence each month, Rev. Linda’s willingness to serve for the bulk of the sabbatical will provide needed continuity and trust.
Deacon Steve will coordinate pastoral care with Rev. Linda. They will be ably assisted by the Pastoral Care Team.
WHAT IF I HAVE A PASTORAL EMERGENCY, BAPTISM, OR FUNERAL DURING THAT TIME?
Contact Rev. Linda or Deacon Steve. They will be happy to assist. Their contact information will be in future Midweek emails.
WHAT IF I BUMP INTO MOTHER MARIA AROUND TOWN?
If you happen to see Maria around town, it’s only natural to wave and say “hello” and catch up. She will want to do the same. Please do help her maintain the renewing and restful call of her sabbatical by not discussing anything related to church life.
HOW WILL WE GET “REACQUAINTED” WHEN MARIA RETURNS?
We will welcome Mother Maria with a festive worship service and meal on Sunday, September 12. There will also be a couple of Sunday forums during which we will get to hear about each other’s experiences and what we each learned as well as updates in the Midweek. Our parish retreat will take place in early October and afford us more time to connect with one another.
HOW CAN I BEST SUPPORT OUR RECTOR AND CHURCH DURING THE SABBATICAL?
- Lean in, not out. The church is a body that needs all of its parts doing what they do best. Our church needs you and we hope that you take this opportunity to engage even deeper in our church and find new ways to call this place your home.
- Pray for Mother Maria. Though there are many great things about spending an extended period in this way, it can also be a struggle. Disconnecting from relationships for a period can be painful and changing the day-to-day rhythms can leave one wondering about their purpose. Pray for Mother Maria’s journey through sabbatical and for her leadership to be renewed so that she returns refreshed and prepared for lasting ministry.
- Pray for and support our wardens, vestry, Deacon Steve, and Rev. Linda. Our wardens, Sewell and Cheryl, are more than equipped to assume the mantle of leadership during the sabbatical. At the same time, they are doing so on top of their other responsibilities. They need your prayers, your support, and your cooperation. Take the time to get to know, befriend, and learn from Rev. Linda. She brings decades of wisdom and leadership as a priest.