Sabbaticals: Does Your Pastor Get One?

Trinity Presbyterian’s Senior Pastor, Tom Letts, has received a Lilly Clergy Renewal Grant for a sabbatical. His departure will be marked at a special Sabbatical Sendoff party at 11:30 a.m. after their regular 10:30 a.m. service this coming Sunday, April 29. I don’t know what they are planning, but it should be a fun time, knowing the Trinity folk.

Sabbaticals, if you’re unaware of them, are based on the Sabbath concept of the 7th day, except years are used. In academia, churches, and some businesses, leaders are given a portion of every 7th year to take time off for study, rest, and reflection. The purpose of Sabbaticals is to give leaders this opportunity to rest and grow, coming back to their classrooms, congregations, etc. refreshed and re energized.

According to Letts, his sabbatical’s purpose is:
A sabbatical, in short, based around a pilgrimage to discover: practices lost to Protestants after the reformation (monastic/common life, hermits, pilgrimage, living under a common rule, lectio divina, fasting…), the effect of the loss on Protestant spiritual development, and how Protestants might reengage in these practices.

Tom’s sabbatical will continue until August 2012. He’ll be meeting with a number of religious figures in the U.S. and Europe. They include Rev. Dr. Darrel Guder: Former Dean of Theology at Princeton Seminary, Rev. Dr. Richard Mouw: President, Fuller Theological Seminary. Christopher Webb: executive director of Renovare, author on the interior life. Rev. Dr. Robert Mitchell: Former president, Young Life International, former vice-president World Vision (U.S.), Presbyterian pastor, spiritual director (Renovare), and the man who introduced Tom to Pascaline. Sr. Pascaline Coff, OSB: Spiritual director to Tom Letts for 27 years. A founding member of the ‘Osage Monastery, the Forest of Peace.’ Sr Anne Lise: Prioress of Dominican Monastery, Oslo, Norway. Fr. Robert Anderson, OSCO: a hermit outside of Telemark, Norway. Rev. Dr. J. Philip Newell: Former warden, Iona Community, Scotland -resides in Edinburgh. Dr. Elizabeth Liebert SNJM: Dean of San Francisco Theological Seminary. Todd Hardesty: Emmy award-winning videographer and member of the contemplative prayer group at Trinity who will accompany Tom to stage and record the interviews and oversee production of a DVD based upon these interviews.

During Tom’s sabbatical, his wife the Rev. Tamara Letts will be preaching, and managing pastoral care, along with the deacon board.

I asked Anchorage pastor Rev. Martin Dasler of Amazing Grace Lutheran Church about his sabbatical experiences and was fascinated by his account.

Dasler shares “My last Sabbatical was in 2002. I received a grant from the Lilly Foundation and did it on Global Missions. My travels took me to Ethiopia to visit mission sites and churches that were supported by Western Washington congregations. I visited and taught at the MaaSae Girls Lutheran Secondary School in Monduli, Arusha, Tanzania, and visited other missions in that country. On my way back to the USA I stopped for a brief stay in the Taize’ Community in France. I believe that my ministry and the congregation greatly benefited by this trip. I came back with new energy, a new perspective on faith and culture, and an infectious joy in my faith rediscovered in Africa.”

Sabbaticals can be enriching experiences for pastors and their congregations. Sadly, some congregations do not recognize the value of sabbaticals for pastors, instead preferring to expect them to be available 24 x 7 with no real breaks for spiritual and physical refreshing. For a sober look at why pastors burn out, I strongly suggest reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s recent book, “Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith”. I’ll share other pastoral sabbatical experiences in future posts.

Have a great sabbatical Pastor Letts. We’ll be looking forward to an accounting of your experiences when you return.

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